They consist of sand and living coral; coral on most of them, according to Captain Moresby, covering the greater part of their surface. They extend parallel to the shore, and they are not unfrequently connected in their middle parts by short transverse banks with the mainland. The sea is generally profoundly deep quite close to them, as it is near most parts of the coast of the mainland; but this is not universally the case, for between latitude 15 deg and 17 deg the water deepens quite gradually from the banks, both on the eastern and western shores, towards the middle of the sea. Islands in many parts arise from these banks; they are low, flat-topped, and consist of the same horizontally stratified formation with that forming the plain-like margin of the mainland. Some of the smaller and lower islands consist of mere sand. Captain Moresby informs me, that small masses of rock, the remnants of islands, are left on many banks where there is now no dry land. Ehrenberg also asserts that most of the islets, even the lowest, have a flat abraded basis, composed of the same tertiary formation: he believes that as soon as the surf wears down the protuberant parts of a bank, just beneath the level of the sea, the surface becomes protected from further abrasion by the growth of coral, and he thus accounts for the existence of so many banks standing on a level with the surface of this sea. It appears that most of the islands are certainly decreasing in size.
The form of the banks and islands is most singular in the part just referred to, namely, from latitude 15 deg to 17 deg, where the sea deepens quite gradually: the DHALAC group, on the western coast, is surrounded by an intricate archipelago of islets and shoals; the main island is very irregularly shaped, and it includes a bay seven miles long, by four across, in which no bottom was found with 252 feet: there is only one entrance into this bay, half a mile wide, and with an island in front of it. The submerged banks on the eastern coast, within the same latitudes, round FARSAN Island, are, likewise, penetrated by many narrow creeks of deep water; one is twelve miles long, in the form of a hatchet, in which, close to its broad upper end, soundings were not struck with 360 feet, and its entrance is only half a mile wide: in another creek of the same nature, but even with a more irregular outline, there was no bottom with 480 feet. The island of Farsan, itself, has as singular a form as any of its surrounding banks. The bottom of the sea round the Dhalac and Farsan Islands consists chiefly of sand and agglutinated fragments, but, in the deep and narrow creeks, it consists of mud; the islands themselves consist of thin, horizontally stratified, modern tertiary beds, containing but little broken coral (Ruppell, "Reise in Abyssinie," Band. i., S. 247.), their shores are fringed by living coral-reefs.
From the account given by Ruppell (Ibid., S. 245.) of the manner in which Dhalac has been rent by fissures, the opposite sides of which have been unequally elevated (in one instance to the amount of fifty feet), it seems probable that its irregular form, as well as probably that of Farsan, may have been partly caused by unequal elevations; but, considering the general form of the banks, and of the deep-water creeks, together with the composition of the land, I think their configuration is more probably due in great part to strong currents having drifted sediment over an uneven bottom: it is almost certain that their form cannot be attributed to the growth of coral. Whatever may have been the precise origin of the Dhalac and Farsan Archipelagoes, the greater number of the banks on the eastern side of the Red Sea seem to have originated through nearly similar means. I judge of this from their similarity in configuration (in proof of which I may instance a bank on the east coast in latitude 22 deg; and although it is true that the northern banks generally have a less complicated outline), and from their similarity in composition, as may be observed in their upraised portions.