Coral Reefs

Page 72

These facts, if not directly connected with subsidence, as I believe they are, at least show how difficult it would be to discover proofs of such movement by ordinary means. At Keeling atoll, however, I have described some appearances, which seem directly to show that subsidence did take place there during the late earthquakes. Vanikoro, according to Chevalier Dillon (See Captain Dillon's "Voyage in search of La Peyrouse." M. Cordier in his "Report on the Voyage of the 'Astrolabe'" (page cxi., volume i.), speaking of Vanikoro, says the shores are surrounded by reefs of madrepore, "qu'on assure etre de formation tout-a-fait moderne." I have in vain endeavoured to learn some further particulars about this remarkable passage. I may here add, that according to our theory, the island of Pouynipete (Plate I., Figure 7), in the Caroline Archipelago, being encircled by a barrier-reef, must have subsided. In the "New S. Wales Lit. Advert." February 1835 (which I have seen through the favour of Dr. Lloghtsky), there is an account of this island (subsequently confirmed by Mr. Campbell), in which it is said, "At the N.E. end, at a place called Tamen, there are ruins of a town, NOW ONLY accessible by boats, the waves REACHING TO THE STEPS OF The HOUSES." Judging from this passage, one would be tempted to conclude that the island must have subsided, since these houses were built. I may, also, here append a statement in Malte Brun (volume ix., page 775, given without any authority), that the sea gains in an extraordinary manner on the coast of Cochin China, which lies in front and near the subsiding coral-reefs in the China Sea: as the coast is granitic, and not alluvial, it is scarcely possible that the encroachment of the sea can be owing to the washing away of the land; and if so, it must be due to subsidence.), is often violently shaken by earthquakes, and there, the unusual depth of the channel between the shore and the reef,--the almost entire absence of islets on the reef,-- its wall-like structure on the inner side, and the small quantity of low alluvial land at the foot of the mountains, all seem to show that this island has not remained long at its present level, with the lagoon-channel subjected to the accumulation of sediment, and the reef to the wear and tear of the breakers. At the Society Archipelago, on the other hand, where a slight tremor is only rarely felt, the shoaliness of the lagoon-channels round some of the islands, the number of islets formed on the reefs of others, and the broad belt of low land at the foot of the mountains, indicate that, although there must have been great subsidence to have produced the barrier-reefs, there has since elapsed a long stationary period.

(Mr. Couthouy states ("Remarks," page 44) that at Tahiti and Eimeo the space between the reef and the shore has been nearly filled up by the extension of those coral-reefs, which within most barrier-reefs merely fringe the land. From this circumstance, he arrives at the same conclusion as I have done, that the Society Islands since their subsidence, have remained stationary during a long period; but he further believes that they have recently commenced rising, as well as the whole area of the Low Archipelago. He does not give any detailed proofs regarding the elevation of the Society Islands, but I shall refer to this subject in another part of this chapter. Before making some further comments, I may observe how satisfactory it is to me, to find Mr. Couthouy affirming, that "having personally examined a large number of coral-islands, and also residing eight months among the volcanic class, having shore and partially encircling reefs, I may be permitted to state that my own observations have impressed a conviction of the correctness of the theory of Mr. Darwin."

This gentleman believes, that subsequently to the subsidence by which the atolls in the Low Archipelago were produced, the whole area has been elevated to the amount of a few feet; this would indeed be a remarkable fact; but as far as I am able to judge, the grounds of his conclusion are not sufficiently strong.

Charles Darwin

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