Coral Reefs

Page 84

We there see vast areas rising, with volcanic matter every now and then bursting forth through the vents or fissures with which they are traversed. We see other wide spaces slowly sinking without any volcanic outburst, and we may feel sure, that this sinking must have been immense in amount as well as in area, thus to have buried over the broad face of the ocean every one of those mountains, above which atolls now stand like monuments, marking the place of their former existence. Reflecting how powerful an agent with respect to denudation, and consequently to the nature and thickness of the deposits in accumulation, the sea must ever be, when acting for prolonged periods on the land, during either its slow emergence or subsidence; reflecting, also, on the final effects of these movements in the interchange of land and ocean-water on the climate of the earth, and on the distribution of organic beings, I may be permitted to hope, that the conclusions derived from the study of coral-formations, originally attempted merely to explain their peculiar forms, may be thought worthy of the attention of geologists.



In the beginning of the last chapter I stated the principles on which the map is coloured. There only remains to be said, that it is an exact copy of one by M. C. Gressier, published by the Depot General de la Marine, in 1835. The names have been altered into English, and the longitude has been reduced to that of Greenwich. The colours were first laid down on accurate charts, on a large scale. The data, on which the volcanoes historically known to have been in action, have been marked with vermillion, were given in a note to the last chapter. I will commence my description on the eastern side of the map, and will describe each group of islands consecutively, proceeding westward across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but ending with the West Indies.

The WESTERN SHORES OF AMERICA appear to be entirely without coral-reefs; south of the equator the survey of the "Beagle", and north of it, the published charts show that this is the case. Even in the Bay of PANAMA, where corals flourish, there are no true coral-reefs, as I have been informed by Mr. Lloyd. There are no coral-reefs in the GALAPAGOS Archipelago, as I know from personal inspection; and I believe there are none on the COCOS, REVILLA-GIGEDO, and other neighbouring islands. CLIPPERTON rock, 10 deg N., 109 deg W., has lately been surveyed by Captain Belcher; in form it is like the crater of a volcano. From a drawing appended to the MS. plan in the Admiralty, it evidently is not an atoll. The eastern parts of the Pacific present an enormous area, without any islands, except EASTER, and SALA, and GOMEZ Islands, which do not appear to be surrounded by reefs.


This group consists of about eighty atolls: it will be quite superfluous to refer to descriptions of each. In D'Urville and Lottin's chart, one island (WOLCHONSKY) is written with a capital letter, signifying, as explained in a former chapter, that it is a high island; but this must be a mistake, as the original chart by Bellinghausen shows that it is a true atoll. Captain Beechey says of the thirty-two groups which he examined (of the greater number of which I have seen beautiful MS. charts in the Admiralty), that twenty-nine now contain lagoons, and he believes the other three originally did. Bellinghausen (see an account of his Russian voyage, in the "Biblioth. des Voyages," 1834, page 443) says, that the seventeen islands which he discovered resembled each other in structure, and he has given charts on a large scale of all of them. Kotzebue has given plans of several; Cook and Bligh mention others; a few were seen during the voyage of the "Beagle"; and notices of other atolls are scattered through several publications. The ACTAEON group in this archipelago has lately been discovered ("Geographical Journal", volume vii., page 454); it consists of three small and low islets, one of which has a lagoon.

Charles Darwin

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