Caribbean

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This article is about the group of islands. For the indigenous inhabitants of Caribbean region and people of Caribbean descent, see Caribbean people. For the body of water surrounding them, see Caribbean Sea. For other uses, see Caribbean (disambiguation).
Caribbean
Antillas (orthographic projection).svg
Area 2,754,000 km2(1,063,000 sq mi)
Land area 239,681 km2 (92,541 sq mi)
Population (2016) 43,489,000[1]
Density 151.5/km2 (392/sq mi)
Ethnic groups Afro-Caribbean, European, Indo-Caribbean, Latino or Hispanic (Spanish and Portuguese), Chinese Caribbean, Jews, Arab, Indonesians/Javanese[2]Amerindian
Demonym Caribbean, West Indian
Languages Spanish, English, French, Dutch, French Creole, English Creole, Caribbean Hindustani, among others
Government 13 sovereign states
17 dependent territories
Largest cities List of metropolitan areas in the West Indies
Santo Domingo
Havana
Port-au-Prince
Santiago de los Caballeros
Kingston
Ocho Rios
Santiago de Cuba
San Juan
Holguín
Cap-Haïtien
Fort-de-France
Nassau
Port of Spain
Georgetown
Paramaribo
San Fernando
Chaguanas
Internet TLD Multiple
Calling code Multiple
Time zone UTC-5 to UTC-4

The Caribbean (/ˌkærˈbən/ or /kəˈrɪbiən/) is a region that consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands (some surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and some bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean) and the surrounding coasts. The region is southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.

Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the region comprises more than 700 islands, islets, reefs and cays. (See the list.) These islands generally form island arcs that delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea.[3] The Caribbean islands, consisting of the Greater Antilles on the north and the Lesser Antilles on the south and east (including the Leeward Antilles), are part of the somewhat larger West Indies grouping, which also includes the Lucayan Archipelago (comprising the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands) north of the Greater Antilles and Caribbean Sea. In a wider sense, the mainland countries of Belize, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are often included due to their political and cultural ties with the region.[4]

Geopolitically, the Caribbean islands are usually regarded as a subregion of North America[5][6][7][8][9] and are organized into 30 territories including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies. From December 15, 1954, to October 10, 2010, there was a country known as the Netherlands Antilles composed of five states, all of which were Dutch dependencies.[10] While from January 3, 1958, to May 31, 1962, there was also a short-lived country called the Federation of the West Indies composed of ten English-speaking Caribbean territories, all of which were then British dependencies. The West Indies cricket team continues to represent many of those nations.

Etymology and pronunciation[edit]

The region takes its name from that of the Caribs, an ethnic group present in the Lesser Antilles and parts of adjacent South America at the time of the Spanish conquest.[11]

The two most prevalent pronunciations of “Caribbean” are karr-ə-bee-ən, with the primary accent on the third syllable, and kə-rib-ee-ən, with the accent on the second. The former pronunciation is the older of the two, although the stressed-second-syllable variant has been established for over 75 years.[12] It has been suggested that speakers of British English prefer karr-ə-bee-ən while North American speakers more typically use kə-rib-ee-ən,[13] although not all sources agree.[14] Usage is split within Caribbean English itself.[15]

Definition[edit]

Map of the Caribbean

The word “Caribbean” has multiple uses. Its principal ones are geographical and political. The Caribbean can also be expanded to include territories with strong cultural and historical connections to slavery, European colonisation and the plantation system.

Geography and geology[edit]

The geography and climate in the Caribbean region varies: Some islands in the region have relatively flat terrain of non-volcanic origin. These islands include Aruba (possessing only minor volcanic features), Barbados, Bonaire, the Cayman Islands, Saint Croix, the Bahamas, and Antigua. Others possess rugged towering mountain-ranges like the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Dominica, Montserrat, Saba, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Saint Thomas, Saint John, Tortola, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Trinidad & Tobago.

Definitions of the terms Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles often vary. The Virgin Islands as part of the Puerto Rican bank are sometimes included with the Greater Antilles. The term Lesser Antilles is often used to define an island arc that includes Grenada but excludes Trinidad and Tobago and the Leeward Antilles.

The waters of the Caribbean Sea host large, migratory schools of fish, turtles, and coral reef formations. The Puerto Rico trench, located on the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea just to the north of the island of Puerto Rico, is the deepest point in all of the Atlantic Ocean.[17]

The region sits in the line of several major shipping routes with the Panama Canal connecting the western Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean.

Climate[edit]

The climate of the area is tropical to subtropical in Cuba, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. Rainfall varies with elevation, size and water currents (cool upwellings keep the ABC islands arid). Warm, moist tradewinds blow consistently from the east creating rainforest/semidesert divisions on mountainous islands. Occasional northwesterlies affect the northern islands in the winter. The region enjoys year-round sunshine, divided into ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ seasons, with the latter six months of the year being wetter than the first half.

Hurricane season is from June to November, but they occur more frequently in August and September and more common in the northern islands of the Caribbean. Hurricanes that sometimes batter the region usually strike northwards of Grenada and to the west of Barbados. The principal hurricane belt arcs to northwest of the island of Barbados in the Eastern Caribbean.

Water temperatures vary from 31 °C (88 °F) to 22 °C (72 °F) all around the year. The air temperature is warm, in the 20s and 30s °C (70s, 80s and 90s °F) during the year, only varies from winter to summer about 2–5 degrees on the southern islands and about 10–20 degrees difference can occur in the northern islands of the Caribbean. The northern islands, like the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, may be influenced by continental masses during winter months, such as cold fronts.

Aruba: Latitude 12°N

[hide]Climate data for Oranjestad, Aruba (1981–2010, extremes 1951–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 32.5
(90.5)
33.0
(91.4)
33.9
(93)
34.4
(93.9)
34.9
(94.8)
35.2
(95.4)
35.3
(95.5)
36.1
(97)
36.5
(97.7)
35.4
(95.7)
35.0
(95)
34.8
(94.6)
36.5
(97.7)
Average high °C (°F) 30.0
(86)
30.4
(86.7)
30.9
(87.6)
31.5
(88.7)
32.0
(89.6)
32.2
(90)
32.0
(89.6)
32.6
(90.7)
32.7
(90.9)
32.1
(89.8)
31.3
(88.3)
30.4
(86.7)
31.5
(88.7)
Daily mean °C (°F) 26.7
(80.1)
26.8
(80.2)
27.2
(81)
27.9
(82.2)
28.5
(83.3)
28.7
(83.7)
28.6
(83.5)
29.1
(84.4)
29.2
(84.6)
28.7
(83.7)
28.1
(82.6)
27.2
(81)
28.1
(82.6)
Average low °C (°F) 24.5
(76.1)
24.7
(76.5)
25.0
(77)
25.8
(78.4)
26.5
(79.7)
26.7
(80.1)
26.4
(79.5)
26.8
(80.2)
26.9
(80.4)
26.4
(79.5)
25.8
(78.4)
25.0
(77)
25.9
(78.6)
Record low °C (°F) 21.3
(70.3)
20.6
(69.1)
21.4
(70.5)
21.5
(70.7)
21.8
(71.2)
22.7
(72.9)
21.2
(70.2)
21.3
(70.3)
22.1
(71.8)
21.9
(71.4)
22.0
(71.6)
20.5
(68.9)
20.5
(68.9)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 39.3
(1.547)
20.6
(0.811)
8.7
(0.343)
11.6
(0.457)
16.3
(0.642)
18.7
(0.736)
31.7
(1.248)
25.8
(1.016)
45.5
(1.791)
77.8
(3.063)
94.0
(3.701)
81.8
(3.22)
471.8
(18.575)
Source: DEPARTAMENTO METEOROLOGICO ARUBA,[18] (extremes)[19]

Puerto Rico: Latitude 18°N

[hide]Climate data for Mayagüez, Puerto Rico
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 35
(95)
36
(96)
36
(97)
37
(98)
37
(98)
37
(98)
37
(99)
37
(99)
37
(99)
37
(99)
37
(98)
36
(97)
37
(99)
Average high °C (°F) 28
(83)
29
(85)
31
(87)
31
(88)
32
(89)
33
(91)
33
(92)
33
(92)
33
(92)
32
(90)
32
(89)
30
(86)
31.4
(88.7)
Average low °C (°F) 17
(63)
18
(64)
19
(66)
21
(69)
23
(73)
23
(74)
24
(75)
24
(76)
24
(76)
23
(74)
21
(70)
19
(67)
21.3
(70.6)
Record low °C (°F) 9
(48)
6
(43)
10
(50)
14
(57)
14
(57)
16
(60)
18
(64)
18
(65)
15
(59)
16
(61)
8
(47)
13
(55)
6
(43)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 28
(1.1)
52
(2.05)
39
(1.54)
123
(4.84)
271
(10.67)
131
(5.16)
168
(6.61)
299
(11.77)
321
(12.64)
189
(7.44)
198
(7.8)
123
(4.84)
1,713
(67.44)
Source: The Weather Channel [20]

Cuba: at Latitude 22°N

[hide]Climate data for Havana
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 32.5
(90.5)
33.0
(91.4)
35.9
(96.6)
36.4
(97.5)
36.9
(98.4)
37.2
(99)
38.0
(100.4)
36.1
(97)
37.5
(99.5)
35.4
(95.7)
35.0
(95)
34.8
(94.6)
38
(100.4)
Average high °C (°F) 25.8
(78.4)
26.1
(79)
27.6
(81.7)
28.6
(83.5)
29.8
(85.6)
30.5
(86.9)
31.3
(88.3)
31.6
(88.9)
31.0
(87.8)
29.2
(84.6)
27.7
(81.9)
26.5
(79.7)
28.8
(83.8)
Daily mean °C (°F) 22.2
(72)
22.4
(72.3)
23.7
(74.7)
24.8
(76.6)
26.1
(79)
27.0
(80.6)
27.6
(81.7)
27.9
(82.2)
27.4
(81.3)
26.1
(79)
24.5
(76.1)
23.0
(73.4)
25.2
(77.4)
Average low °C (°F) 18.6
(65.5)
18.6
(65.5)
19.7
(67.5)
20.9
(69.6)
22.4
(72.3)
23.4
(74.1)
23.8
(74.8)
24.1
(75.4)
23.8
(74.8)
23.0
(73.4)
21.3
(70.3)
19.5
(67.1)
21.6
(70.9)
Record low °C (°F) 4.0
(39.2)
5.6
(42.1)
5.4
(41.7)
11.5
(52.7)
16.8
(62.2)
19.7
(67.5)
18.2
(64.8)
19.3
(66.7)
19.1
(66.4)
11.9
(53.4)
10.0
(50)
7.5
(45.5)
4
(39.2)
Average rainfall mm (inches) 64.4
(2.535)
68.6
(2.701)
46.2
(1.819)
53.7
(2.114)
98.0
(3.858)
182.3
(7.177)
105.6
(4.157)
99.6
(3.921)
144.4
(5.685)
180.5
(7.106)
88.3
(3.476)
57.6
(2.268)
1,189.2
(46.817)
Source: World Meteorological Organisation (UN),[21] Climate-Charts.com[22]

Puerto Rico‘s south shore, from the mountains of Jayuya

Puerto Cruz beach in Margarita Island, Venezuela

Beach in San Andrés, Colombia.

A popular Caribbean tropical portrait: the island of San Andrés.

Grand Anse beach, St. George’s, Grenada

A church cemetery perched in the mountains of Guadeloupe.

A view of Nevis island from the southeastern peninsula of Saint Kitts.

Island groups[edit]

Lucayan Archipelago[a]

Greater Antilles

Lesser Antilles

Historical groupings[edit]

Spanish Caribbean Islands in the American Viceroyalties 1600.

Political evolution of Central America and the Caribbean from 1700 to present

The mostly Spanish-controlled Caribbean in the 16th century

All islands at some point were, and a few still are, colonies of European nations; a few are overseas or dependent territories:

The British West Indies were united by the United Kingdom into a West Indies Federation between 1958 and 1962. The independent countries formerly part of the B.W.I. still have a joint cricket team that competes in Test matches, One Day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals. The West Indian cricket team includes the South American nation of Guyana, the only former British colony on the mainland of that continent.

In addition, these countries share the University of the West Indies as a regional entity. The university consists of three main campuses in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, a smaller campus in the Bahamas and Resident Tutors in other contributing territories such as Trinidad.

Modern-day island territories[edit]

Islands in and near the Caribbean
Maritime boundaries between the Caribbean (island) nations

Continental countries with Caribbean coastlines and islands[edit]

Biodiversity[edit]

The Caribbean islands are remarkable for the diversity of their animals, fungi and plants, and have been classified as one of Conservation International‘s biodiversity hotspots because of their exceptionally diverse terrestrial and marine ecosystems, ranging from montane cloud forests to cactus scrublands. The region also contains about 8% (by surface area) of the world’s coral reefs[23] along with extensive seagrass meadows,[24] both of which are frequently found in the shallow marine waters bordering island and continental coasts off the region.

For the fungi, there is a modern checklist based on nearly 90,000 records derived from specimens in reference collections, published accounts and field observations.[25] That checklist includes more than 11250 species of fungi recorded from the region. As its authors note, the work is far from exhaustive, and it is likely that the true total number of fungal species already known from the Caribbean is higher. The true total number of fungal species occurring in the Caribbean, including species not yet recorded, is likely far higher given the generally accepted estimate that only about 7% of all fungi worldwide have been discovered.[26] Though the amount of available information is still small, a first effort has been made to estimate the number of fungal species endemic to some Caribbean islands. For Cuba, 2200 species of fungi have been tentatively identified as possible endemics of the island;[27] for Puerto Rico, the number is 789 species;[28] for the Dominican Republic, the number is 699 species;[29] for Trinidad and Tobago, the number is 407 species.[30]

Many of the ecosystems of the Caribbean islands have been devastated by deforestation, pollution, and human encroachment. The arrival of the first humans is correlated with extinction of giant owls and dwarf ground sloths.[31] The hotspot contains dozens of highly threatened animals (ranging from birds, to mammals and reptiles), fungi and plants. Examples of threatened animals include the Puerto Rican amazon, two species of solenodon (giant shrews) in Cuba and the Hispaniola island, and the Cuban crocodile.

Saona Island, Dominican Republic

The region’s coral reefs, which contain about 70 species of hard corals and between 500–700 species of reef-associated fishes[32] have undergone rapid decline in ecosystem integrity in recent years, and are considered particularly vulnerable to global warming and ocean acidification.[33] According to a UNEP report, the caribbean coral reefs might get extinct in next 20 years due to population explosion along the coast lines, overfishing, the pollution of coastal areas and global warming.[34]

Some Caribbean islands have terrain that Europeans found suitable for cultivation for agriculture. Tobacco was an important early crop during the colonial era, but was eventually overtaken by sugarcane production as the region’s staple crop. Sugar was produced from sugarcane for export to Europe. Cuba and Barbados were historically the largest producers of sugar. The tropical plantation system thus came to dominate Caribbean settlement. Other islands were found to have terrain unsuited for agriculture, for example Dominica, which remains heavily forested. The islands in the southern Lesser Antilles, Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, are extremely arid, making them unsuitable for agriculture. However, they have salt pans that were exploited by the Dutch. Sea water was pumped into shallow ponds, producing coarse salt when the water evaporated.[35]

The natural environmental diversity of the Caribbean islands has led to recent growth in eco-tourism. This type of tourism is growing on islands lacking sandy beaches and dense human populations.[36]