Coral Reefs

Page 08

Several theories have been advanced to explain the origin of atolls or lagoon-islands, but scarcely one to account for barrier-reefs. From the limited depths at which reef-building polypifers can flourish, taken into consideration with certain other circumstances, we are compelled to conclude, as it will be seen, that both in atolls and barrier-reefs, the foundation on which the coral was primarily attached, has subsided; and that during this downward movement, the reefs have grown upwards. This conclusion, it will be further seen, explains most satisfactorily the outline and general form of atolls and barrier-reefs, and likewise certain peculiarities in their structure. The distribution, also, of the different kinds of coral-reefs, and their position with relation to the areas of recent elevation, and to the points subject to volcanic eruptions, fully accord with this theory of their origin. (A brief account of my views on coral formations, now published in my Journal of Researches, was read May 31st, 1837, before the Geological Society, and an abstract has appeared in the Proceedings.)



In the several original surveys, from which the small plans on this plate have been reduced, the coral-reefs are engraved in very different styles. For the sake of uniformity, I have adopted the style used in the charts of the Chagos Archipelago, published by the East Indian Company, from the survey by Captain Moresby and Lieutenant Powell. The surface of the reef, which dries at low water, is represented by a surface with small crosses: the coral-islets on the reef are marked by small linear spaces, on which a few cocoa-nut trees, out of all proportion too large, have been introduced for the sake of clearness. The entire ANNULAR REEF, which when surrounding an open expanse of water, forms an "atoll," and when surrounding one or more high islands, forms an encircling "barrier-reef," has a nearly uniform structure. The reefs in some of the original surveys are represented merely by a single line with crosses, so that their breadth is not given; I have had such reefs engraved of the width usually attained by coral-reefs. I have not thought it worth while to introduce all those small and very numerous reefs, which occur within the lagoons of most atolls and within the lagoon-channels of most barrier-reefs, and which stand either isolated, or are attached to the shores of the reef or land. At Peros Banhos none of the lagoon-reefs rise to the surface of the water; a few of them have been introduced, and are marked by plain dotted circles. A few of the deepest soundings are laid down within each reef; they are in fathoms, of six English feet.

Figure 1.--VANIKORO, situated in the western part of the South Pacific; taken from the survey by Captain D'Urville in the "Astrolabe;" the soundings on the southern side of the island, namely, from thirty to forty fathoms, are given from the voyage of the Chev. Dillon; the other soundings are laid down from the survey by D'Urville; height of the summit of the island is 3,032 feet. The principal small detached reefs within the lagoon-channel have in this instance been represented. The southern shore of the island is narrowly fringed by a reef: if the engraver had carried this reef entirely round both islands, this figure would have served (by leaving out in imagination the barrier-reef) as a good specimen of an abruptly-sided island, surrounded by a reef of the fringing class.

Figure 2.--HOGOLEU, or ROUG, in the Caroline Archipelago; taken from the "Atlas of the Voyage of the 'Astrolabe,'" compiled from the surveys of Captains Duperrey and D'Urville; the depth of the immense lagoon-like space within the reef is not known.

Figure 3.--RAIATEA, in the Society Archipelago; from the map given in the quarto edition of "Cook's First Voyage;" it is probably not accurate.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book