Coral Reefs

Page 63

From the position, as well as form, of three atolls in the Caroline Archipelago (the Namourrek and Elato group), which are placed in an irregular circle, I am strongly tempted to believe that they have originated by the process of disseverment. (The same remark is, perhaps, applicable to the islands of Ollap, Fanadik, and Tamatam in the Caroline Archipelago, of which charts are given in the atlas of Duperrey's voyage: a line drawn through the linear reefs and lagoons of these three islands forms a semicircle. Consult also, the atlas of Lutke's voyage; and for the Marshall group that of Kotzebue; for the Gilbert group consult the atlas of Duperrey's voyage. Most of the points here referred to may, however, be seen in Krusenstern's general Atlas of the Pacific.)


In the Marshall group, Musquillo atoll consists of two loops united in one point; and Menchikoff atoll is formed of three loops, two of which (as may be seen in Figure 3, Plate II.) are connected by a mere ribbon-shaped reef, and the three together are sixty miles in length. In the Gilbert group some of the atolls have narrow strips of reef, like spurs, projecting from them. There occur also in parts of the open sea, a few linear and straight reefs, standing by themselves; and likewise some few reefs in the form of crescents, with their extremities more or less curled inwards. Now, the upward growth of a barrier-reef which fronted only one side of an island, or one side of an elongated island with its extremities (of which cases exist), would produce after the complete subsidence of the land, mere strips or crescent or hook-formed reefs: if the island thus partially fronted became divided during subsidence into two or more islands, these islands would be united together by linear reefs; and from the further growth of the coral along their shores together with subsidence, reefs of various forms might ultimately be produced, either atolls united together by linear reefs, or atolls with spurs projecting from them. Some, however, of the more simple forms above specified, might, as we have seen, be equally well produced by the coral perishing during subsidence on part of the circumference of an atoll, whilst on the other parts it continued to grow up till it reached the surface.


I have already shown that the submerged condition of the Great Chagos Bank (Plate II., Figure 1, with its section Figure 2), and of some other banks in the Chagos group, may in all probability be attributed to the coral having perished before or during the movements of subsidence, to which this whole area by our theory has been subjected. The external rim or upper ledge (shaded in the chart), consists of dead coral-rock thinly covered with sand; it lies at an average depth of between five and eight fathoms, and perfectly resembles in form the annular reef of an atoll. The banks of the second level, the boundaries of which are marked by dotted lines in the chart, lie from about fifteen to twenty fathoms beneath the surface; they are several miles broad, and terminate in a very steep slope round the central expanse. This central expanse I have already described, as consisting of a level muddy flat between thirty and forty fathoms deep. The banks of the second level, might at first sight be thought analogous to the internal step-like ledge of coral-rock which borders the lagoons of some atolls, but their much greater width, and their being formed of sand, are points of essential difference. On the eastern side of the atoll some of the banks are linear and parallel, resembling islets in a great river, and pointed directly towards a great breach on the opposite side of the atoll; these are best seen in the large published chart. I inferred from this circumstance, that strong currents sometimes set directly across this vast bank; and I have since heard from Captain Moresby that this is the case. I observed, also, that the channels or breaches through the rim, were all of the same depth as the central lagoon-like space into which they lead; whereas the channels into the other atolls of the Chagos group, and as I believe into most other large atolls, are not nearly as deep as their lagoons: for instance at Peros Banhos, the channels are only of the same depth, namely between ten and twenty fathoms, as the bottom of the lagoon for a space about a mile and a half in width round its shores, whilst the central expanse of the lagoon is from thirty-five to forty fathoms deep. Now, if an atoll during a gradual subsidence once became entirely submerged, like the Great Chagos Bank, and therefore no longer exposed to the surf, very little sediment could be formed from it; and consequently the channels leading into the lagoon from not being filled up with drifted sand and coral detritus, would continue increasing in depth, as the whole sank down.

Charles Darwin

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