(Kokamo recently spent a day at Hakau Lahi atoll
here - 19:45.5S 174:34.0W )
Doctor Beard swung himself through the door
before energetically springing to the front of the class with the kind of
gamble that he liked to feel demonstrated a youthful vigour belying his
"Morning chaps!" he enthused, swinging his tweed
jacket over the back of his chair, the elbow patches grazing the antiquated
blackboard he insisted on retaining, raising a small eruption of white
dust. The classroom babble merely calmed in
readiness for the boredom of the next forty minutes, while Newbald launched his
final rubber-band propelled pellet of blue-tac at Harrington along his line of
"Right, today, I'm talking about
paradise. Yep, azure blue lagoons, white sand beaches, swaying
palms, beautiful girls wearing coconuts... " A snigger
from Evans in the second row provided the required punctuation: oh
yes, he still had it.
"But how do those nearly circular rings of
reefs come about in the middle of the deep ocean? What power created
that picture postcard lagoon full of fish and lobster, with the small
but perfect sandy island in it?"
Deathly hush... But Beard wasn't seeking an
answer, more a dramatic pause. And at least silence meant he had their
attention, of a sort.
"Well at first, people thought that a volcano must
almost have reached the surface of the sea, and then the coral had grown on top
of the crater in a ring. But then a famously bearded 19th Century
gentleman had another idea. Can anyone guess who that
Blank looks. Then a sudden
return to collective consciousness as Form 4B realised that a response was
"Known as more of a biologist really....
"Bin Laden, sir", joined by barely stifled sniggers
from Newbald and Andrews.
"Very good Harrington, a man with a beard," sighed
"Charles Darwin?" came a weak voice from the
"Excellent, Wilks. It was indeed the
gloriously bearded thinker who came up with the theory of evolution, who also
suggested that perhaps atolls could have evolved in their own way too. His
idea was that a volcanic island might emerge from the sea, and become surrounded
by a coral reef. Then, the island gradually disappeared - either through
erosion, or it sinking back into the earth's crust, or the sea-level
"But coral! Coral is a living thing!" Beard stated
triumphantly. "A wondrous combination of animal and algae - I'll let
Professor Jacobs explain that one in your next biology lesson. Be sure you
ask him, eh Wilks? Good."
"Anyway, as the island sinks beneath the waves, the
dynamic coral can keep up with the change, until we are left with the enclosed
lagoons we know and love."
The eyes gazing at the projected images
of oval sun-soaked turquoise waters had glazed over, as if
refusing to engage with this unnecessarily attractive landscape. Beard's
own eyes settled on the wind-bent boughs of the sycamore outside the
high-windows, its dried leaves rattling against the bleak October sky.
When had it all changed so much?
"There are some great atolls in the Ha'apai Group,
some coral islands in the Kingdom of Tonga." He surveyed his
audience, weighing an emotion almost lost to his memory.
"You know, I sailed there once..."
But it was too late, or too trivial,
or too personal... the class showed zero interest. And anyway, that was
pre-history - before the ill-advised leap into academia, a hasty
doctorate, and then that undeserved 'disgrace' over a couple of misused
references in an (admittedly ambitious) paper citing that both
atmospheric indicators and Melanesion oral legend exactly correlated to predict
global environmental collapse in 2054.
A blue pellet bounced off the blackboard, bringing
Beard back to the fidgeting boys in front of him. Then,
thankfully, an attempt to revive any interest in atoll formation
was saved by the rough clang of the bell.
[PS. The real process of atoll formation is
somewhat dimly remembered, and at any rate, I have a
sneeking suspicion that Hakau Lahu might
technically be a 'fringing reef' rather than an atoll after all].