Coral Reefs

Page 117


The N.E. part of the promontory appears in Captain Owen's charts to be fringed; coloured red. The eastern coast, from 20 deg to 18 deg is fringed. South of latitude 18 deg, there commences the most remarkable reef in the West Indies: it is about one hundred and thirty miles in length, ranging in a N. and S. line, at an average distance of fifteen miles from the coast. The islets on it are all low, as I have been informed by Captain B. Allen; the water deepens suddenly on the outside of the reef, but not more abruptly than off many of the sedimentary banks: within its southern extremity (off HONDURAS) the depth is twenty-five fathoms; but in the more northern parts, the depth soon increases to ten fathoms, and within the northernmost part, for a space of twenty miles, the depth is only from one to two fathoms. In most of these respects we have the characteristics of a barrier-reef; nevertheless, from observing, first, that the channel within the reef is a continuation of a great irregular bay, which penetrates the mainland to the depth of fifty miles; and secondly, that considerable spaces of this barrier-like reef are described in the charts (for instance, in latitude 16 deg 45' and 16 deg 12') as formed of pure sand; and thirdly, from knowing that sediment is accumulating in many parts of the West Indies in banks parallel to the shore; I have not ventured to colour this reef as a barrier, without further evidence that it has really been formed by the growth of corals, and that it is not merely in parts a spit of sand, and in other parts a worn down promontory, partially coated and fringed by reefs; I lean, however, to the probability of its being a barrier-reef, produced by subsidence. To add to my doubts, immediately on the outside of this barrier-like reef, TURNEFFE, LIGHTHOUSE, and GLOVER reefs are situated, and these reefs have so completely the form of atolls, that if they had occurred in the Pacific, I should not have hesitated about colouring them blue. TURNEFFE REEF seems almost entirely filled up with low mud islets; and the depth within the other two reefs is only from one to three fathoms. From this circumstance and from their similarity in form, structure, and relative position, both to the bank called NORTHERN TRIANGLES, on which there is an islet between seventy and eighty feet, and to COZUMEL Island, the level surface of which is likewise between seventy and eighty feet in height, I consider it more probable that the three foregoing banks are the worn down bases of upheaved shoals, fringed with corals, than that they are true atolls, wholly produced by the growth of coral during subsidence; left uncoloured.

In front of the eastern MOSQUITO coast, there are between latitude 12 deg and 16 deg some extensive banks (already mentioned, page 148), with high islands rising from their centres; and there are other banks wholly submerged, both of which kinds of banks are bordered, near their windward margins, by crescent-shaped coral-reefs. But it can hardly be doubted, as was observed in the preliminary remarks, that these banks owe their origin, like the great bank extending from the Mosquito promontory, almost entirely to the accumulation of sediment, and not to the growth of corals; hence I have not coloured them.

CAYMAN ISLAND: this island appears in the charts to be fringed; and Captain B. Allen informs me that the reefs extend about a mile from the shore, and have only from five to twelve feet water within them; coloured red.--JAMAICA: judging from the charts, about fifteen miles of the S.E. extremity, and about twice that length on the S.W. extremity, and some portions on the S. side near Kingston and Port Royal, are regularly fringed, and therefore are coloured red. From the plans of some harbours on the N. side of Jamaica, parts of the coast appear to be fringed; but as these are not represented in the charts of the whole island, I have not coloured them.--ST. DOMINGO: I have not been able to obtain sufficient information, either from plans of the harbours, or from general charts, to enable me to colour any part of the coast, except sixty miles from Port de Plata westward, which seems very regularly fringed; many other parts, however, of the coast are probably fringed, especially towards the eastern end of the island.--PUERTO RICO: considerable portions of the southern, western, and eastern coasts, and some parts of the northern coast, appear in the charts to be fringed; coloured red.--Some miles in length of the southern side of the Island of ST.

Charles Darwin

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