The Caribbean is a region consisting of the Caribbean Sea, its islands (most of which enclose the sea), and the surrounding coasts. The region is located southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and Northern America, east of Central America, and to the north of South America.
Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the region comprises more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays. These islands, called the West Indies, generally form island arcs that delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea. These islands are called the West Indies because when Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492 he believed that he had reached the Indies (in Asia).
The region consists of the Antilles, divided into the larger Greater Antilles which bound the sea on the north and the Lesser Antilles on the south and east (including the Leeward Antilles), and the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are in fact in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba, not in the Caribbean Sea.
Geo-politically, the West Indies are usually regarded as a sub-region of North America and are organized into 27 territories including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies. At one time, there was a short-lived country called the Federation of the West Indies composed of ten English-speaking Caribbean territories, all of which were then UK dependencies.
The region takes its name from that of the Carib, an ethnic group present in the Lesser Antilles and parts of adjacent South America at the time of European contact
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.
* Physiographically, the Caribbean region is mainly a chain of islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea. To the north is the Caribbean Sea bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida, and the Northern Atlantic Ocean which lies to the East and Northeast; the coastline of the continent of South America lies to the south.
* Politically, "Caribbean" may be centred around socio-economic groupings found in the region. For example the block known as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) contains both the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the Republic of Suriname found in South America, along with Belize in Central America as full members. Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands which are found in the Atlantic Ocean are Associate members of the Caribbean Community, and the same goes for the Commonwealth of the Bahamas which is a full member of the Caribbean Community.'
* Alternately the organisation known as the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) consists of almost every nation in the surrounding regions which lie on the Caribbean Sea plus El Salvador which lies solely on the Pacific Ocean. According to the ACS the total population of its member states is some 227 million people. The Caribbean has 7001 islands.
Geography and climate
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 or 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.
The climate of the region is tropical but 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 last six months of the year being wetter than the first half.
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.
Hurricanes, which at times 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.
The region sits in the line of several major shipping routes with the man-made Panama Canal connecting the western Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean.
All islands at some point were, and a few still are, colonies of European nations; a few are overseas or dependent territories:
* British West Indies/Anglophone Caribbean – Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bay Islands, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Croix (briefly), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago (from 1797) and the Turks and Caicos Islands
* Danish West Indies – present-day United States Virgin Islands
* Dutch West Indies – present-day Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, Virgin Islands, Saint Croix (briefly), Tobago and Bay Islands (briefly)
* French West Indies – Anguilla (briefly), Antigua and Barbuda (briefly), Dominica, Dominican Republic (briefly), Grenada, Haiti, Montserrat (briefly), Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius (briefly), St Kitts (briefly), Tobago (briefly), Saint Croix, the current French overseas départements of Martinique and Guadeloupe (including Marie-Galante, La Désirade and Les Saintes), and the current French overseas collectivities of Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martin (France).
* Portuguese West Indies – present-day Barbados, known as Os Barbados in the 1500s when the Portuguese claimed the island en route to Brazil. The Portuguese left Barbados abandoned in 1533, nearly a century prior to the British arrival to the island.
* Spanish West Indies – Cuba, Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic, Haiti(until 1609 to France), Puerto Rico, Jamaica (until 1655 to Great Britain), the Cayman Islands(until 1670 to Great Britain) Trinidad (until 1797 to Great Britain) and Bay Islands (until 1643 to Great Britain), with coastal Island of Central America (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama) and South America (Venezuela and Colombia).
* Swedish West Indies – present-day French Saint-Barthélemy and Guadeloupe (briefly).
* Courlander West Indies – Tobago (until 1691)
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 and One Day Internationals. The West Indian cricket team includes the South American nation of Guyana, the only former British colony on 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.
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