Coral Reefs

Page 64

In this case, we might expect that the currents of the open sea, instead of any longer sweeping round the submarine flanks, would flow directly through the breaches across the lagoon, removing in their course the finer sediment, and preventing its further accumulation. We should then have the submerged reef forming an external and upper rim of rock, and beneath this portion of the sandy bottom of the old lagoon, intersected by deep-water channels or breaches, and thus formed into separate marginal banks; and these would be cut off by steep slopes, overhanging the central space, worn down by the passage of the oceanic currents.

By these means, I have scarcely any doubt that the Great Chagos Bank has originated,--a structure which at first appeared to me far more anomalous than any I had met with. The process of formation is nearly the same with that, by which Mahlos Mahdoo had been trisected; but in the Chagos Bank the channels of the oceanic currents entering at several different quarters, have united in a central space.

This great atoll-formed bank appears to be in an early stage of disseverment; should the work of subsidence go on, from the submerged and dead condition of the whole reef, and the imperfection of the south-east quarter a mere wreck would probably be left. The Pitt's Bank, situated not far southward, appears to be precisely in this state; it consists of a moderately level, oblong bank of sand, lying from 10 to 20 fathoms beneath the surface, with two sides protected by a narrow ledge of rock which is submerged between 5 and 8 fathoms. A little further south, at about the same distance as the southern rim of the Great Chagos Bank is from the northern rim, there are two other small banks with from 10 to 20 fathoms on them; and not far eastward soundings were struck on a sandy bottom, with between 110 and 145 fathoms. The northern portion with its ledge-like margin, closely resembles any one segment of the Great Chagos Bank, between two of the deep-water channels, and the scattered banks, southward appear to be the last wrecks of less perfect portions.

I have examined with care the charts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and have now brought before the reader all the examples, which I have met with, of reefs differing from the type of the class to which they belong; and I think it has been satisfactorily shown, that they are all included in our theory, modified by occasional accidents which might have been anticipated as probable. In this course we have seen, that in the lapse of ages encircling barrier-reefs are occasionally converted into atolls, the name of atoll being properly applicable, at the moment when the last pinnacle of encircled land sinks beneath the surface of the sea. We have, also, seen that large atolls during the progressive subsidence of the areas in which they stand, sometimes become dissevered into smaller ones; at other times, the reef-building polypifers having entirely perished, atolls are converted into atoll-formed banks of dead rock; and these again through further subsidence and the accumulation of sediment modified by the force of the oceanic currents, pass into level banks with scarcely any distinguishing character. Thus may the history of an atoll be followed from its first origin, through the occasional accidents of its existence, to its destruction and final obliteration.


The vast amount of subsidence, both horizontally or in area, and vertically or in depth, necessary to have submerged every mountain, even the highest, throughout the immense spaces of ocean interspersed with atolls, will probably strike most people as a formidable objection to my theory. But as continents, as large as the spaces supposed to have subsided, have been raised above the level of the sea,--as whole regions are now rising, for instance, in Scandinavia and South America,--and as no reason can be assigned, why subsidences should not have occurred in some parts of the earth's crust on as great a scale both in extent and amount as those of elevation, objections of this nature strike me as of little force.

Charles Darwin

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