Centuries ago, when the world’s oceans had just begun to attract the attention of people around the world, cross-generation science and technology became the most important tool in making oceanic discoveries. This led people who were not scientists by profession to wonder and explore the mysterious watery world that covers over seventy percent of Earth on their own. Charles Darwin, a 19th century English naturalist and geologist, was one of those individuals. Although he was first a son and a student before a scientist, Darwin is best known for his contributions to the theory of evolution which is taught in most biological science classes at schools to this day. While on the voyage of the HMS Beagle, he noticed trends in the rise and fall of the Earth’s crust and related it to the creation of volcanic islands that commonly had reef structures. Note that this is long before theories of plate tectonics surfaced in society. Darwin also understood that tiny coral creatures, called polyps, could only survive within a certain depth in the water column. Not only was being below this certain depth detrimental to the animals, they also could not survive contact with the sun’s rays above the sea’s surface for even a fraction of time. Charles Darwin believed that lagoon-islands gradually formed from coral structures transitioning from fringing reefs to barrier reefs, and finally to atolls. Through his university education and adventures out to sea, he was able to put pieces of information together to come up with this theory on the origin of coral reefs.
Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury England. He was one of two boys born to Robert Waring Darwin and Susannah nee Wedgwood, and was raised in a wealthy family. The Darwin children went to school and were raised in a common household setting, attending day school and playing together as siblings do. In June of 1825, Charles joined his brother, Erasmus, at the University of Edinburgh and enrolled in courses to pursue his interest in medicine. Starting in 1826, he developed a desire to understand biology. This interest led him to transfer to the University of Cambridge in January of 1828 where his curiosity in the biological field continued to grow. He examined and read research papers about marine animals, collected beetles and travelled to parts of the world he had never visited before to sample different insect species, and took botany classes while at Cambridge. He graduated from the university in 1831 and was invited on the voyage of the HMS Beagle in August of that year. His father objected, but his uncle encouraged him to go on the trip. The ship, a 10-brig vessel of the British Royal Navy, set sail out of Plymouth on December 27, 1831. Five years later, The Beagle returned Darwin to his hometown in Shrewsbury on October 4, 1836 (Wyhe, Darwin Online). Practically straight out of college, Darwin had observed a sizable portion of the vastness of the world he probably did not think he would see at such a young age. His education and genuine interest in the living environment around him caused him to start writing scientific papers, which led him to publish many of his works, and eventually led him to theorize on the origin of life and other aspects of biology.
Throughout his time on the Beagle, Darwin constantly made observations and speculations about what he saw; he kept a journal that was published and can be found online and in libraries today, titled, The Voyage of the Beagle. According to John van Wyhe, in 1839, he married his cousin, Emma Wedgewood and had ten children with her over the course of their lives together. Unfortunately, only seven of the ten made it to adulthood. In 1842, he made a short trip to Wales where he and his family settled down. From his working experience and journaling on the Beagle, he published The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs. Among many other works he had published in his lifetime, his most famous was, and still is, The Origin of Species. This book is where he compiled all of his data, information, and explanations of his theories of evolution. Leaving an astronomical historical legacy, he died at the age of seventy-three on April 19, 1882 (Wyhe, Darwin Online).