Coral Reefs

Page 112

The depth within the banks northward of latitude 17 deg, is usually greater, and their outer sides shelve more abruptly (circumstances which seem to go together) than in the Dhalac and Farsan Archipelagoes; but this might easily have been caused by a difference in the action of the currents during their formation: moreover, the greater quantity of living coral, which, according to Captain Moresby, exists on the northern banks, would tend to give them steeper margins.

From this account, brief and imperfect as it is, we can see that the great chain of banks on the eastern coast, and on the western side in the southern portion, differ greatly from true barrier-reefs wholly formed by the growth of coral. It is indeed the direct conclusion of Ehrenberg ("Uber die," etc., pages 45 and 51), that they are connected in their origin quite secondarily with the growth of coral; and he remarks that the islands off the coast of Norway, if worn down level with the sea, and merely coated with living coral, would present a nearly similar appearance. I cannot, however, avoid suspecting, from information given me by Dr. Malcolmson and Captain Moresby, that Ehrenberg has rather under-rated the influence of corals, in some places at least, on the formation of the tertiary deposits of the Red Sea.


There are, in this space, reefs, which, if I had known nothing of those in other parts of the Red Sea, I should unhesitatingly have considered as barrier-reefs; and, after deliberation, I have come to the same conclusion. One of these reefs, in 20 deg 15', is twenty miles long, less than a mile in width (but expanding at the northern end into a disc), slightly sinuous, and extending parallel to the mainland at the distance of five miles from it, with very deep water within; in one spot soundings were not obtained with 205 fathoms. Some leagues further south, there is another linear reef, very narrow, ten miles long, with other small portions of reef, north and south, almost connected with it; and within this line of reefs (as well as outside) the water is profoundly deep. There are also some small linear and sickle-formed reefs, lying a little way out at sea. All these reefs are covered, as I am informed by Captain Moresby, by living corals. Here, then, we have all the characters of reefs of the barrier class; and in some outlying reefs we have an approach to the structure of atolls. The source of my doubts about the classification of these reefs, arises from having observed in the Dhalac and Farsan groups the narrowness and straightness of several spits of sand and rock: one of these spits in the Dhalac group is nearly fifteen miles long, only two broad, and it is bordered on each side with deep water; so that, if worn down by the surf, and coated with living corals, it would form a reef nearly similar to those within the space under consideration. There is, also, in this space (latitude 21 deg) a peninsula, bordered by cliffs, with its extremity worn down to the level of the sea, and its basis fringed with reefs: in the line of prolongation of this peninsula, there lies the island of MACOWA (formed, according to Captain Moresby, of the usual tertiary deposit), and some smaller islands, large parts of which likewise appear to have been worn down, and are now coated with living corals. If the removal of the strata in these several cases had been more complete, the reefs thus formed would have nearly resembled those barrier-like ones now under discussion. Notwithstanding these facts, I cannot persuade myself that the many very small, isolated, and sickle-formed reefs and others, long, nearly straight, and very narrow, with the water unfathomably deep close round them, could possibly have been formed by corals merely coating banks of sediment, or the abraded surfaces of irregularly shaped islands. I feel compelled to believe that the foundations of these reefs have subsided, and that the corals, during their upward growth, have given to these reefs their present forms: I may remark that the subsidence of narrow and irregularly-shaped peninsulas and islands, such as those existing on the coasts of the Red Sea, would afford the requisite foundations for the reefs in question.

Charles Darwin

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