A shallow body of water located adjacent to a larger body such as a river, lake, or ocean, yet partly separated from it by a thin strip of land, is known as a lagoon. The separating barrier may be a sand bank, reef, barrier island, or spit. Lagoons related to coral reefs occur in two forms: one is situated between a barrier reef and the coast and can be of almost any shape; the other is found within an atoll, a circular reef with the lagoon at its center. Tourism brochures have strongly linked the term to faraway tropical places, like Coconut Lagoon in Kerala, India, or any of the classic half-moon reef lagoons of the Pacific atolls. This may owe to the fact that “marooned” and lagoon rhyme so nicely in the poetry of getaway fantasies. Notable American lagoons include the shallow indentions along the south shore of New York’s Long Island, flanked by dunes, and the coastal lagoons around Sitka, Alaska, prized by sea kayakers for watching gray whales. River lagoons in the American heartland commonly shelter natural wonders, as described by Willa Cather in O Pioneers!: “The Bergson wagon . . . skirted the margin of wide lagoons, where the golden coreopsis grew up out of the clear water and the wild ducks rose with a whirr of wings.” And lagoons have long offered coveted shelter for human settlements. Lagos, the Nigerian capital, derives its name from the Portuguese word for lagoon.

Mike Tidwell