Coral Reefs

Page 71

Observing the smallness of the scale of the map, the parallels of latitude being nine hundred miles apart, we see that none of the large groups of reefs and islands supposed to have been produced by long-continued subsidence, lie near extensive lines of coast coloured red, which are supposed to have remained stationary since the growth of their reefs, or to have been upraised and new lines of reefs formed on them. Where the red and blue circles do occur near each other, I am able, in several instances, to show that there have been oscillations of level, subsidence having preceded the elevation of the red spots; and elevation having preceded the subsidence of the blue spots: and in this case the juxtaposition of reefs belonging to the two great types of structure is little surprising. We may, therefore, conclude that the proximity in the same areas of the two classes of reefs, which owe their origin to the subsidence of the earth's crust, and their separation from those formed during its stationary or uprising condition, holds good to the full extent, which might have been anticipated by our theory.

As groups of atolls have originated in the upward growth, at each fresh sinking of the land, of those reefs which primarily fringed the shores of one great island, or of several smaller ones; so we might expect that these rings of coral-rock, like so many rude outline charts, will still retain some traces of the general form, or at least general range, of the land, round which they were first modelled. That this is the case with the atolls in the Southern Pacific as far as their range is concerned, seems highly probable, when we observe that the three principal groups are directed in north-west and south-east lines, and that nearly all the land in the S. Pacific ranges in this same direction; namely, N. Western Australia, New Caledonia, the northern half of New Zealand, the New Hebrides, Saloman, Navigator, Society, Marquesas, and Austral archipelagoes: in the Northern Pacific, the Caroline atolls abut against the north-west line of the Marshall atolls, much in the same manner as the east and west line of islands from Ceram to New Britain do on New Ireland: in the Indian Ocean the Laccadive and Maldiva atolls extend nearly parallel to the western and mountainous coast of India. In most respects, there is a perfect resemblance with ordinary islands in the grouping of atolls and in their form: thus the outline of all the larger groups is elongated; and the greater number of the individual atolls are elongated in the same direction with the group, in which they stand. The Chagos group is less elongated than is usual with other groups, and the individual atolls in it are likewise but little elongated; this is strikingly seen by comparing them with the neighbouring Maldiva atolls. In the Marshall and Maldiva archipelagoes, the atolls are ranged in two parallel lines, like the mountains in a great double mountain-chain. Some of the atolls, in the larger archipelagoes, stand so near to each other, and have such an evident relationship in form, that they compose little sub-groups: in the Caroline Archipelago, one such sub-group consists of Pouynipete, a lofty island encircled by a barrier-reef, and separated by a channel only four miles and a half wide from Andeema atoll, with a second atoll a little further off. In all these respects an examination of a series of charts will show how perfectly groups of atolls resemble groups of common islands.


With respect to subsidence, I have shown in the last chapter, that we cannot expect to obtain in countries inhabited only by semi-civilised races, demonstrative proofs of a movement, which invariably tends to conceal its own evidence. But on the coral-islands supposed to have been produced by subsidence, we have proofs of changes in their external appearance--of a round of decay and renovation--of the last vestiges of land on some--of its first commencement on others: we hear of storms desolating them to the astonishment of their inhabitants: we know by the great fissures with which some of them are traversed, and by the earthquakes felt under others, that subterranean disturbances of some kind are in progress.

Charles Darwin

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