11 December 2009

'In a moment overthrown'

Darwin's first big theory wasn't evolution by natural selection, it was a mechanism for the formation of coral reefs and atolls. The story of Darwin and corals is beautifully narrated by David Dobbs in his book Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral, which I'm nearly finished reading now and plan to review here later.

Today I'm writing to add our support to the global call for action to save coral reefs from extinction by climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and overfishing:

Coral reefs and climate change, a message for Copenhagen from Earth Touch on Vimeo.

Watching this I couldn't help recalling how, at the end of his Journal of Researches (a.k.a. The Voyage of the Beagle), Darwin wrote,
'Among the other most remarkable spectacles which we have beheld, may be ranked the stars of the southern hemisphere—the water-spout—the glacier leading its blue stream of ice in a bold precipice overhanging the sea—a lagoon island raised by the coral-forming polypi—an active volcano—and the overwhelming effects of a violent earthquake. The three latter phenomena, perhaps, possess for me a peculiar interest, from their intimate connexion with the geological structure of the world. The earthquake must however, be to every one a most impressive event : the earth, considered from our earliest childhood as the type of solidity, has oscillated like a thin crust beneath our feet; and in seeing the most beautiful and laboured works of man in a moment overthrown, we feel the insignificance of his boasted power.'
That last thought is especially poignant now that we are seeing the most beautiful and laboured works of nature in a moment overthrown.... by us.

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