Coral Reefs

Page 48

bottom with the broad lead, nevertheless the arming invariably came up perfectly clean, but deeply indented. From eight to fifteen fathoms a little calcareous sand was occasionally brought up, but more frequently the arming was simply indented. In all this space the two Madrepores above mentioned, and two species of Astraea, with rather large stars, seemed the commonest kinds (Since the preceding pages were printed off, I have received from Mr. Lyell a very interesting pamphlet, entitled "Remarks upon Coral Formations," etc., by J. Couthouy, Boston, United States, 1842. There is a statement (page 6), on the authority of the Rev. J. Williams, corroborating the remarks made by Ehrenberg and Lyell (page 71 of this volume), on the antiquity of certain individual corals in the Red Sea and at Bermuda; namely, that at Upolu, one of the Navigator Islands, "particular clumps of coral are known to the fishermen by name, derived from either some particular configuration or tradition attached to them, and handed down from time immemorial." With respect to the thickness of masses of coral-rock, it clearly appears, from the descriptions given by Mr. Couthouy (pages 34, 58) that Mangaia and Aurora Islands are upraised atolls, composed of coral rock: the level summit of the former is about three hundred feet, and that of Aurora Island is two hundred feet above the sea-level.); and it must be noticed that twice at the depth of fifteen fathoms, the arming was marked with a clean impression of an Astraea. Besides these lithophytes, some fragments of the Millepora alcicornis, which occurs in the same relative position at Keeling Island, were brought up; and in the deeper parts there were large beds of a Seriatopora, different from S. subulata, but closely allied to it. On the beach within the reef, the rolled fragments consisted chiefly of the corals just mentioned, and of a massive Porites, like that at Keeling atoll, of a Meandrina, Pocillopora verrucosa, and of numerous fragments of Nullipora. From fifteen to twenty fathoms the bottom was, with few exceptions, either formed of sand, or thickly covered with Seriatopora: this delicate coral seems to form at these depths extensive beds unmingled with any other kind. At twenty fathoms, one sounding brought up a fragment of Madrepora apparently M. pocillifera, and I believe it is the same species (for I neglected to bring specimens from both stations) which mainly forms the upper margin of the reef; if so, it grows in depths varying from 0 to 20 fathoms. Between 20 and 23 fathoms I obtained several soundings, and they all showed a sandy bottom, with one exception at 30 fathoms, when the arming came up scooped out, as if by the margin of a large Caryophyllia. Beyond 33 fathoms I sounded only once; and from 86 fathoms, at the distance of one mile and a third from the edge of the reef, the arming brought up calcareous sand with a pebble of volcanic rock. The circumstance of the arming having invariably come up quite clean, when sounding within a certain number of fathoms off the reefs of Mauritius and Keeling atoll (eight fathoms in the former case, and twelve in the latter) and of its having always come up (with one exception) smoothed and covered with sand, when the depth exceeded twenty fathoms, probably indicates a criterion, by which the limits of the vigorous growth of coral might in all cases be readily ascertained. I do not, however, suppose that if a vast number of soundings were obtained round these islands, the limit above assigned would be found never to vary, but I conceive the facts are sufficient to show, that the exceptions would be few. The circumstance of a GRADUAL change, in the two cases, from a field of clean coral to a smooth sandy bottom, is far more important in indicating the depth at which the larger kinds of coral flourish than almost any number of separate observations on the depth, at which certain species have been dredged up. For we can understand the gradation, only as a prolonged struggle against unfavourable conditions. If a person were to find the soil clothed with turf on the banks of a stream of water, but on going to some distance on one side of it, he observed the blades of grass growing thinner and thinner, with intervening patches of sand, until he entered a desert of sand, he would safely conclude, especially if changes of the same kind were noticed in other places, that the presence of the water was absolutely necessary to the formation of a thick bed of turf: so may we conclude, with the same feeling of certainty, that thick beds of coral are formed only at small depths beneath the surface of the sea.

Charles Darwin

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