The entire area of the Caribbean Sea, the numerous islands of the West Indies
, and adjacent coasts, are collectively known as the Caribbean
. The Caribbean Sea is one of the largest seas and has an area of about 2,754,000 km2
(1,063,000 sq mi).
The sea's deepest point is the Cayman Trough
, between the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, at 7,686 m (25,217 ft) below sea level
. The Caribbean coastline has many gulfs and bays: the Gulf of Gonâve
, Gulf of Venezuela
, Gulf of Darién
, Golfo de los Mosquitos
, Gulf of Paria
and Gulf of Honduras
The name "Caribbean" derives from the Caribs
, one of the region's dominant Native American
groups at the time of European
contact during the late 15th century. After Christopher Columbus
landed in the Bahamas
in 1492, the Spanish term Antillas
applied to the lands; stemming from this, "Sea of the Antilles" became a common alternative name for "Caribbean Sea" in various European languages. During the first century of development, Spanish dominance in the region remained undisputed.
From the 16th century, Europeans visiting the Caribbean region identified the "South Sea"
(the Pacific Ocean, to the south of the isthmus of Panama) as opposed to the "North Sea" (the Caribbean Sea, to the north of the same isthmus).
From Point San Diego
(Puerto Rico) Northward along the meridian thereof (65°39′W) to the 100-fathom line, thence Eastward and Southward, in such a manner that all islands, shoals and narrow waters of the Lesser Antilles
are included in the Caribbean Sea as far as Galera Point
(Northeast extremity of the island of Trinidad
). From Galera Point through Trinidad to Galeota Point (Southeast extreme) and thence to Baja Point (9°32′N61°0′W
) in Venezuela
Note that, although Barbados
is an island on the same continental shelf, it is considered to be in the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Caribbean Sea.
The Caribbean's floor is composed of sub-oceanic sediments
of deep red clay
in the deep basins and troughs. On continental slopes and ridges calcareous silts
are found. Clay minerals
likely having been deposited by the mainland river Orinoco
and the Magdalena River
. Deposits on the bottom of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico have a thickness of about 1 km (0.62 mi). Upper sedimentary layers relate to the period from the Mesozoic
to the Cenozoic
(250 million years ago to present) and the lower layers from the Paleozoic
to the Mesozoic
Caribbean plate tectonics
The Caribbean sea floor is divided into five basins
separated from each other by underwater ridges and mountain ranges. Atlantic Ocean water enters the Caribbean through the Anegada Passage
lying between the Lesser Antilles
and Virgin Islands
and the Windward Passage
located between Cuba
. The Yucatán Channel
between Mexico and Cuba links the Gulf of Mexico
with the Caribbean. The deepest points of the sea lie in Cayman Trough
with depths reaching approximately 7,686 m (25,220 ft). Despite this, the Caribbean Sea is considered a relatively shallow sea in comparison to other bodies of water. The pressure of the South American Plate
to the east of the Caribbean causes the region of the Lesser Antilles
to have high volcanic activity. There was a very serious eruption of Mount Pelée
in 1902 which caused many casualties.
The Caribbean sea floor is also home to two oceanic trenches
: the Cayman Trench
and Puerto Rico Trench
, which put the area at a high risk of earthquakes
. Underwater earthquakes pose a threat of generating tsunamis
which could have a devastating effect on the Caribbean islands. Scientific data reveals that over the last 500 years the area has seen a dozen earthquakes above 7.5 magnitude.
Most recently, a 7.1 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010.
of the sea has a high level of homogeneity. Annual variations in monthly average water temperatures at the surface do not exceed 3 °C (5.4 °F). Over the past fifty years the Caribbean has gone through three stages: cooling until 1974; a cold phase with peaks during 1974–1976 and 1984–1986 then; a warming phase with an increase in temperature of 0.6 °C (1.1 °F) per year. Virtually all temperature extremes were associated with the phenomena of El Niño
and La Niña
. The salinity
of seawater is about 3.6% and its density
is 1,023.5–1,024.0 kg/m3
(63.90–63.93 lb/cu ft). The surface water colour is blue-green to green.
The Caribbean's depth in its wider basins and deep water temperatures are similar to those of the Atlantic. Atlantic deep water is thought to spill into the Caribbean and contribute to the general deep water of its sea.
The surface water (30 m; 100 feet) acts as an extension of the northern Atlantic as the Guiana Current and part of the North Equatorial Current
enter the sea on the east. On the western side of the sea the trade winds
influence a northerly current which causes an upwelling
and a rich fishery near Yucatán.
During the past ten years,[when?]
unusually warm Caribbean waters have been increasingly threatening Caribbean coral reefs
. Coral reefs support some of the most diverse marine habitats in the world, but they are fragile ecosystems. When tropical waters become unusually warm for extended periods of time, microscopic plants called zooxanthellae
, which are symbiotic partners living within the coral polyp tissues, die off. These plants provide food for the corals and give them their color. The result of the death and dispersal of these tiny plants is called coral bleaching
, and can lead to the devastation of large areas of reef. Over 42% of corals are completely bleached and 95% are experiencing some type of whitening.
Historically the Caribbean is thought to contain 14% of the world's coral reefs.
The habitats supported by the reefs are critical to such tourist activities as fishing
, and provide an annual economic value to Caribbean nations of US$
3.1–4.6 billion. Continued destruction of the reefs could severely damage the region's economy.
A Protocol of the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region
came in effect in 1986 to protect the various endangered marine life of the Caribbean through forbidding human activities that would advance the continued destruction of such marine life in various areas. Currently this protocol has been ratified
by 15 countries.
Also, several charitable organisations have been formed to preserve the Caribbean marine life, such as Caribbean Conservation Corporation
which seeks to study and protect sea turtles
while educating others about them.
In connection with the foregoing, the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico
, conducted a regional study, funded by the Department of Technical Cooperation of the International Atomic Energy Agency
, in which specialists from 11 Latin American countries (Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Dominican Republic, Venezuela) plus Jamaica participated. The findings indicate that heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, and lead, have been identified in the coastal zone of the Caribbean Sea. Analysis of toxic metals and hydrocarbons is based on the investigation of coastal sediments that have accumulated less than 50 meters deep during the last hundred and fifty years. The project results were presented in Vienna in the forum "Water Matters", and the 2011 General Conference of said multilateral organization.
Average sea surface temperatures for the Caribbean Atlantic Ocean (25–27 August 2005). Hurricane Katrina
is seen just above Cuba
The climate of the Caribbean is driven by the low latitude and tropical ocean currents that run through it. The principal ocean current is the North Equatorial Current
, which enters the region from the tropical Atlantic
. The climate of the area is tropical
, varying from tropical rainforest
in some areas to tropical savanna
in others. There are also some locations that are arid
climates with considerable drought in some years.
Rainfall varies with elevation, size, and water currents (cool upwelling keep the ABC islands
arid). Warm, moist trade winds
blow consistently from the east, creating both rainforest and semi-arid climates across the region. The tropical rainforest climates include lowland areas near the Caribbean Sea from Costa Rica
north to Belize
, as well as the Dominican Republic
and Puerto Rico
, while the more seasonal dry tropical savanna climates are found in Cuba
, northern Venezuela
, and southern Yucatán, Mexico
. Arid climates are found along the extreme southern coast of Venezuela out to the islands including Aruba
, as well as the northern tip of Yucatán
are a threat to the nations that rim the Caribbean Sea. While landfalls are infrequent, the resulting loss of life and property damage makes them a significant hazard to life in the Caribbean. Tropical cyclones that impact the Caribbean often develop off the West coast of Africa
and make their way west across the Atlantic Ocean toward the Caribbean, while other storms develop in the Caribbean itself. The Caribbean hurricane season as a whole lasts from June through November, with the majority of hurricanes occurring during August and September. On average around 9 tropical storms form each year, with 5 reaching hurricane strength. According to the National Hurricane Center
385 hurricanes occurred in the Caribbean between 1494 and 1900.
Flora and fauna
in the region have representatives of both the Indian
oceans which were caught in the Caribbean before the emergence of the Isthmus of Panama
four million years ago.
In the Caribbean Sea there are around 1,000 documented species of fish, including sharks
, tiger shark
, silky shark
and Caribbean reef shark
), flying fish
, giant oceanic manta ray
, angel fish
, spotfin butterflyfish
, Atlantic Goliath grouper
and moray eels
. Throughout the Caribbean there is industrial catching of lobster
(off the coast of Yucatán Peninsula
There are 500 species of reptiles
(94% of which are endemic
). Islands are inhabited by some endemic species such as rock iguanas
and American crocodile
. The blue iguana
, endemic to the island of Grand Cayman
, is endangered. The green iguana
is invasive to Grand Cayman
. The Mona ground iguana
which inhabits the island of Mona, Puerto Rico
, is endangered. The rhinoceros iguana
from the island of Hispaniola
which is shared between Haiti
and the Dominican Republic
is also endangered. The region has several types of sea turtle
, green turtle
, leatherback turtle
, Atlantic ridley
and olive ridley
). Some species are threatened with extinction.
Their populations have been greatly reduced since the 17th century – the number of green turtles has declined from 91 million to 300,000 and hawksbill turtles from 11 million to less than 30,000 by 2006.
Economy and human activity
The Caribbean region has seen a significant increase in human activity since the colonization period. The sea is one of the largest oil production areas in the world, producing approximately 170 million tons[clarification needed]
The area also generates a large fishing industry for the surrounding countries, accounting for 500,000 tonnes (490,000 long tons; 550,000 short tons) of fish a year.
Human activity in the area also accounts for a significant amount of pollution
, The Pan American Health Organization estimated in 1993 that only about 10% of the sewage from the Central American and Caribbean Island countries is properly treated before being released into the sea.
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Last edited on 4 May 2021, at 01:35
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