From the comparative observations made in these latter pages, we may finally conclude, that the subterranean changes which have caused some large areas to rise, and others to subside, have acted in a very similar manner.
In the three first chapters, the principal kinds of coral-reefs were described in detail, and they were found to differ little, as far as relates to the actual surface of the reef. An atoll differs from an encircling barrier-reef only in the absence of land within its central expanse; and a barrier-reef differs from a fringing-reef, in being placed at a much greater distance from the land with reference to the probable inclination of its submarine foundation, and in the presence of a deep-water lagoon-like space or moat within the reef. In the fourth chapter the growing powers of the reef-constructing polypifers were discussed; and it was shown, that they cannot flourish beneath a very limited depth. In accordance with this limit, there is no difficulty respecting the foundations on which fringing-reefs are based; whereas, with barrier-reefs and atolls, there is a great apparent difficulty on this head; in barrier-reefs from the improbability of the rock of the coast or of banks of sediment extending, in every instance, so far seaward within the required depth;--and in atolls, from the immensity of the spaces over which they are interspersed, and the apparent necessity for believing that they are all supported on mountain-summits, which although rising very near to the surface-level of the sea, in no one instance emerge above it. To escape this latter most improbable admission, which implies the existence of submarine chains of mountains of almost the same height, extending over areas of many thousand square miles, there is but one alternative; namely, the prolonged subsidence of the foundations, on which the atolls were primarily based, together with the upward growth of the reef-constructing corals. On this view every difficulty vanishes; fringing reefs are thus converted into barrier-reefs; and barrier-reefs, when encircling islands, are thus converted into atolls, the instant the last pinnacle of land sinks beneath the surface of the ocean.
Thus the ordinary forms and certain peculiarities in the structure of atolls and barrier-reefs can be explained;--namely, the wall-like structure on their inner sides, the basin or ring-like shape both of the marginal and central reefs in the Maldiva atolls--the union of some atolls as if by a ribbon--the apparent disseverment of others--and the occurrence, in atolls as well as in barrier-reefs, of portions of reef, and of the whole of some reefs, in a dead and submerged state, but retaining the outline of living reefs. Thus can be explained the existence of breaches through barrier-reefs in front of valleys, though separated from them by a wide space of deep water; thus, also, the ordinary outline of groups of atolls and the relative forms of the separate atolls one to another; thus can be explained the proximity of the two kinds of reefs formed during subsidence, and their separation from the spaces where fringing-reefs abound. On searching for other evidence of the movements supposed by our theory, we find marks of change in atolls and in barrier-reefs, and of subterranean disturbances under them; but from the nature of things, it is scarcely possible to detect any direct proofs of subsidence, although some appearances are strongly in favour of it. On the fringed coasts, however, the presence of upraised marine bodies of a recent epoch, plainly show, that these coasts, instead of having remained stationary, which is all that can be directly inferred from our theory, have generally been elevated.
Finally, when the two great types of structure, namely barrier-reefs and atolls on the one hand, and fringing-reefs on the other, were laid down in colours on our map, a magnificent and harmonious picture of the movements, which the crust of the earth has within a late period undergone, is presented to us.