Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 85.djvu/213

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THE

 

POPULAR SCIENCE

 

MONTHLY



SEPTEMBER, 1914



AN EXPEDITION TO THE CORAL REEFS OF TORRES STRAITS
By ALFRED GOLDSBOROUGH MAYER

EARLY in September, 1913, the expedition of the Department of Marine Biology of the Carnegie Institution of Washington arrived at Thursday Island in Torres Straits off the northern end of Cape York.

Thursday Island owing to the deep water in its vicinity has grown to be a busy port of call, although it is barely a mile in length and is so completely surrounded by the larger members of the archipelago that only the most detailed British Admiralty charts records its name, and even the painstaking Captain Cook who first sailed past it in the "Endeavour" in 1770, merely notes it as one of the Prince of Wales Islands.

Yet to our eyes it seemed an important place. Four of us—Clark, Harvey, Mayer and Tennent, together with Mr. John Mills, the able engineer of our naptha launch, had come nearly half the distance around the world from the eastern states of America, while Mr. Potts had left his cloistered quarters in Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and Mr. E. M. Grosse, the artist, had joined the expedition in Sydney.

Thursday Island was the intended objective of our journey for Saville-Kent in his beautifully illustrated book upon the Great Barrier Reef of Australia had especially designated it as being the site par excellence from which to study the coral reefs of Torres Straits.

Our surprise and disappointment was great therefore when we found the coral reefs to be overwhelmed with a layer of mud above which only the largest corals could raise their heads and thrive. The region seemed an ideal one only for masses of fleshy, dull olive-green alcyonaria (Sarcophyton) superficially resembling huge lichens several feet in diameter. The remarkably strong currents with their freight of silt and mud were fatal to luxuriant coral growth and the echinoderm life was hopelessly deficient, so that even the cheerful Clark, as enthusiastic a collector as ever lived, was in despair.