The Caribbean is a region of the Americas consisting of the Caribbean Sea, its islands (most of which enclose the sea), and the surrounding coasts. The region is located southeast of North 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. Also called the West Indies, since Christopher Columbus landed here in 1492 believing he was in India, 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. Geopolitically, the West Indies are usually reckoned as a subregion of North America and are organised 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.
The Caribbean islands are an island chain 4,020 kilometres (2,500 mi) long and no more than 257 kilometres (160 mi) wide at any given point. They enclose the Caribbean Sea.
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. In the English-speaking Caribbean, someone from the Caribbean is usually referred to as a "West Indian," although the phrase "Caribbean person" is sometimes used.
The term 'Caribbean' has multiple uses. Its principal ones are geographical and political.
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, Belize, Bay Islands, 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 Barthelemy and Saint Martin.
- 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, and until 1609, Haiti), Puerto Rico, Jamaica (until 1655), the Cayman Islands, Trinidad (until 1797) and Bay Islands (until 1643)
- Swedish West Indies – present-day French Saint-Barthélemy and Guadeloupe (briefly).
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.
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, the Northern Atlantic Ocean which lies to the East and Northeast; and the Coastline of the continent of South America to the south.
Politically, the term Caribbean may be centered around socio-economic groupings found in the region. For example the bloc known as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) contains both the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the Republic of Suriname found in South 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.
The geography and climate in the Caribbean region varies from one place to another. Some islands in the region have relatively flat terrain of non-volcanic origin. Such islands include Aruba (possessing only minor volcanic features), Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands, Barbados, Bonaire, the Cayman Islands or Antigua. Others possess rugged towering mountain-ranges like the islands of Cuba, Dominica, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Saba, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Guadeloupe, 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. Winters are warm, but drier.
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 Caribbean islands are classified as one of Conservation International's biodiversity hotspots because they support exceptionally diverse ecosystems, ranging from montane cloud forests to cactus scrublands. These ecosystems have been devastated by deforestation and human encroachment. The hotspot contains dozens of highly-threatened species, ranging from birds, to mammals and reptiles. Popular examples include the Puerto Rican Amazon, two species of solenodon (giant shrews) in Cuba and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), as well as the Cuban crocodile. The hotspot is also remarkable for the diminutive nature of much of its fauna.
Caribbean societies are very different from other western societies in terms of size, culture, and degree of mobility of their citizens. The current economic and political problems that the states of the Caribbean face individually are common to all Caribbean states. Regional development has contributed in attempts to halt current problems and avoided projected problems. Regionalism in the Caribbean from a political economic perspective is an attempt to portray Caribbean states as active participants in current international affairs through collective coalitions. In 1973, the first true orientation of regionalism in the Caribbean Basin was created on the advances of the English-speaking Caribbean nations through the institutional vehicle known as the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM).
Wording courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.org/