Some foundational coral reef reading

The full map folds out to reveal the documented reefs, atolls & active volcanos of the worlds oceans. Red on the map indicates ‘fringing reefs’. Apparently Darwin didn’t know about the coral in Bocas del Toro, Panama… Sadly, the map is not in good shape.

Even in the library, I am easily distracted… I just happened to run across Darwin’s book Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs and had to investigate. Charles Darwin was one of the first coral biologists, and this book was the first monograph he produced out of his voyage on the Beagle. The book is more about the geological consequences of the coral than in the living ‘polypifers’ themselves, with a particular focus on his (correct) hypothesis for the mechanism for the formation of coral atolls: a land mass (island) is formed in the ocean by an active volcano; when the volcano becomes inactive, living coral colonizes the shallow water surrounding the island; the coral reef gradually grows, while the inactive volcano island subsides. Eventually the roughly circular reef structure remains surrounding a lagoon. The first edition of the book was published in 1842, but the version we have is the 2nd edition, published in 1896.

You can read the book online through the complete archives, but it isn’t quite the same thing as having the book in front of you. It is a beautiful book with fold-out maps and illustrations. I wish our copy was in better shape. Sadly, being over a hundred years old, the fold-out pages are a bit torn, and the paper is delicate; it isn’t really in good enough condition to take out of the library, and, as you can see, it could use some restorative work. But, it just goes to show, you never know what treasure might appear you when you aren’t looking.


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