Coral Reefs

Page 70

Looking now at the map under the theoretical point of view indicated in the last chapter, the two blue tints signify that the foundations of the reefs thus coloured have subsided to a considerable amount, at a slower rate than that of the upward growth of the corals, and that probably in many cases they are still subsiding. The red signifies that the shores which support fringing-reefs have not subsided (at least to any considerable amount, for the effects of a subsidence on a small scale would in no case be distinguishable); but that they have remained nearly stationary since the period when they first became fringed by reefs; or that they are now rising or have been upraised, with new lines of reefs successively formed on them: these latter alternatives are obviously implied, as newly formed lines of shore, after elevations of the land, would be in the same state with respect to the growth of fringing-reefs, as stationary coasts. If during the prolonged subsidence of a shore, coral-reefs grew for the first time on it, or if an old barrier-reef were destroyed and submerged, and new reefs became attached to the land, these would necessarily at first belong to the fringing class, and, therefore, be coloured red, although the coast was sinking: but I have no reason to believe, that from this source of error, any coast has been coloured wrongly with respect to movement indicated. Well characterised atolls and encircling barrier-reefs, where several occur in a group, or a single barrier-reef if of large dimensions, leave scarcely any doubt on the mind respecting the movement by which they have been produced; and even a small amount of subsequent elevation is soon betrayed. The evidence from a single atoll or a single encircling barrier-reef, must be received with some caution, for the former may possibly be based upon a submerged crater or bank, and the latter on a submerged margin of sediment, or of worn-down rock. From these remarks we may with greater certainty infer that the spaces, especially the larger ones, tinted blue in the map, have subsided, than that the red spaces have remained stationary, or have been upraised.


Having made these preliminary remarks, I will consider first how far the grouping of the different kinds of coral-islands and reefs is corroborative of the truth of the theory. A glance at the map shows that the reefs, coloured blue and red, produced under widely different conditions, are not indiscriminately mixed together. Atolls and barrier-reefs, on the other hand, as may be seen by the two blue tints, generally lie near each other; and this would be the natural result of both having been produced during the subsidence of the areas in which they stand. Thus, the largest group of encircled islands is that of the Society Archipelago; and these islands are surrounded by atolls, and only separated by a narrow space from the large group of Low atolls. In the midst of the Caroline atolls, there are three fine encircled islands. The northern point of the barrier-reef of New Caledonia seems itself, as before remarked, to form a complete large atoll. The great Australian barrier is described as including both atolls and small encircled islands. Captain King (Sailing directions, appended to volume ii. of his "Surveying Voyage to Australia.") mentions many atoll-formed and encircling coral-reefs, some of which lie within the barrier, and others may be said (for instance between latitude 16 deg and 13 deg) to form part of it. Flinders ("Voyage to Terra Australis," volume ii. page 336.) has described an atoll-formed reef in latitude 10 deg, seven miles long and from one to three broad, resembling a boot in shape, with apparently very deep water within. Eight miles westward of this, and forming part of the barrier, lie the Murray Islands, which are high and are encircled. In the Corallian Sea, between the two great barriers of Australia and New Caledonia, there are many low islets and coral-reefs, some of which are annular, or horse-shoe shaped.

Charles Darwin

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