Coral Reefs

Page 116

Having now endeavoured to remove some sources of doubt in classifying the reefs of the West Indies, I will give my authorities for colouring such portions of the coast as I have thought myself warranted in doing. Captain Bird Allen informs me, that most of the islands on the BAHAMA BANKS are fringed, especially on their windward sides, with living reefs; and hence I have coloured those, which are thus represented in Captain Owen's late chart, red. The same officer informs me, that the islands along the southern part of FLORIDA are similarly fringed; coloured red. CUBA: Proceeding along the northern coast, at the distance of forty miles from the extreme S.E. point, the shores are fringed by reefs, which extend westward for a space of 160 miles, with only a few breaks. Parts of these reefs are represented in the plans of the harbours on this coast by Captain Owen; and an excellent description is given of them by Mr. Taylor (Loudon's "Mag. of Nat. Hist." volume ix., page 449); he states that they enclosed a space called the "baxo," from half to three-quarters of a mile in width, with a sandy bottom, and a little coral. In most parts people can wade, at low water, to the reef; but in some parts the depth is between two and three fathoms. Close outside the reef, the depth is between six and seven fathoms; these well-characterised fringing-reefs are coloured red. Westward of longitude 77 deg 30', on the northern side of Cuba, a great bank commences, which extends along the coast for nearly four degrees of longitude. In the place of its commencement, in its structure, and in the "CAYS," or low islands on its edge, there is a marked correspondence (as observed by Humboldt, "Pers. Narr." volume vii., page 88) between it and the Great Bahama and Sal Banks, which lie directly in front. Hence one is led to attribute the same origin to both these sets of banks; namely, the accumulation of sediment, conjoined with an elevatory movement, and the growth of coral on their outward edges; those parts which appear fringed by living reefs are coloured red. Westward of these banks, there is a portion of coast apparently without reefs, except in the harbours, the shores of which seem in the published plans to be fringed. The COLORADO SHOALS (see Captain Owen's charts), and the low land at the western end of Cuba, correspond as closely in relative position and structure to the banks at the extreme point of Florida, as the banks above described on the north side of Cuba, do to the Bahamas, the depth within the islets and reefs on the outer edge of the COLORADOS, is generally between two and three fathoms, increasing to twelve fathoms in the southern part, where the bank becomes nearly open, without islets or coral-reefs; the portions which are fringed are coloured red. The southern shore of Cuba is deeply concave, and the included space is filled up with mud and sandbanks, low islands and coral-reefs. Between the mountainous ISLE OF PINES and the southern shore of Cuba, the general depth is only between two and three fathoms; and in this part small islands, formed of fragmentary rock and broken madrepores (Humboldt, "Pers. Narr." volume vii. pages 51, 86 to 90, 291, 309, 320), rise abruptly, and just reach the surface of the sea. From some expressions used in the "Columbian Navigator" (volume i., part ii., page 94), it appears that considerable spaces along the outer coast of Southern Cuba are bounded by cliffs of coral-rock, formed probably by the upheaval of coral-reefs and sandbanks. The charts represent the southern part of the Isle of Pines as fringed by reefs, which the "Columb. Navig." says extend some way from the coast, but have only from nine to twelve feet water on them; these are coloured red.--I have not been able to procure any detailed description of the large groups of banks and "cays" further eastward on the southern side of Cuba; within them there is a large expanse, with a muddy bottom, from eight to twelve fathoms deep; although some parts of this line of coast are represented in the general charts of the West Indies, as fringed, I have not thought it prudent to colour them. The remaining portion of the south coast of Cuba appears to be without coral-reefs.

Charles Darwin

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