Coral Reefs

Page 79

Stutchbury found on the apex of one of the highest mountains, between 5,000 and 7,000 feet above the level of the sea, "a distinct and regular stratum of semi-fossil coral." At Tahiti, however, other naturalists, as well as myself, have searched in vain at a low level near the coast, for upraised shells or masses of coral-reef, where if present they could hardly have been overlooked. From this fact, I concluded that probably the organic remains strewed high up on the surface of the land, had originally been embedded in the volcanic strata, and had subsequently been washed out by the rain. I have since heard from the Rev. W. Ellis, that the remains which he met with, were (as he believes) interstratified with an argillaceous tuff; this likewise was the case with the shells observed by the Rev. D. Tyerman at Huaheine. These remains have not been specifically examined; they may, therefore, and especially the stratum observed by Mr. Stutchbury at an immense height, be contemporaneous with the first formation of the Society Islands, and be of any degree of antiquity; or they may have been deposited at some subsequent, but probably not very recent, period of elevation; for if the period had been recent, the entire surface of the coast land of these islands, where the reefs are so extensive, would have been coated with upraised coral, which certainly is not the case. Two of the Harvey, or Cook Islands, namely, Aitutaki and Manouai, are encircled by reefs, which extend so far from the land, that I have coloured them blue, although with much hesitation, as the space within the reef is shallow, and the outline of the land is not abrupt. These two islands consist of coral-rock; but I have no evidence of their recent elevation, besides, the improbability of Mangaia, a fringed island in the same group (but distant 170 miles), having retained its nearly perfect atoll-like structure, during any immense lapse of time after its upheaval. The Red Sea, therefore, is the only area in which we have clear proofs of the recent elevation of a district, which, by our theory (although the barrier-reefs are there not well characterised), has lately subsided. But we have no reason to be surprised at oscillation, of level of this kind having occasionally taken place. There can be scarcely any doubt that Savage, Aurora (Aurora Island is described by Mr. Couthouy ("Remarks," page 58); it lies 120 miles north-east of Tahiti; it is not coloured in the appended map, because it does not appear to be fringed by living reefs. Mr. Couthouy describes its summit as "presenting a broad table-land which declines a few feet towards the centre, where we may suppose the lagoon to have been placed." It is about two hundred feet in height, and consists of reef-rock and conglomerate, with existing species of coral embedded in it. The island has been elevated at two successive periods; the cliffs being marked halfway up with a horizontal water-worn line of deep excavations. Aurora Island seems closely to resemble in structure Elizabeth Island, at the southern end of the Low Archipelago.), and Mangaia Islands, and several of the islands in the Friendly group, existed originally as atolls, and these have undoubtedly since been upraised to some height above the level of the sea; so that by our theory, there has here, also, been an oscillation of level, --elevation having succeeded subsidence, instead of, as in the middle part of the Red Sea and at the Harvey Islands, subsidence having probably succeeded recent elevation.

It is an interesting fact, that Fais, which, from its composition, form, height, and situation at the western end of the Caroline Archipelago, one is strongly induced to believe existed before its upheaval as an atoll, lies exactly in the prolongation of the curved line of the Mariana group, which we know to be a line of recent elevation. I may add, that Elizabeth Island, in the southern part of the Low Archipelago, which seems to have had the same kind of origin as Fais, lies near Pi

Charles Darwin

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