Caribbean Sea is a sea of the
Ocean situated in the tropics of the Western
hemisphere, bounded to the south and west by the American landmass, with the North Atlantic Ocean
proper to the northeast and the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest. More specifically, it
washes upon (clockwise from the south) the South American countries of Venezuela and Colombia on the
south; the Central American
countries of Panama on the
southwest, and Costa
Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and
Mexico on the west; the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico) on the
north, and the Lesser Antilles on
the east.The entire area of the Caribbean Sea, the
numerous islands of the West Indies, and adjacent coasts, are collectively known as the
The Caribbean Sea
The Caribbean Sea is one of the largest salt water 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
(25,220 ft) below sea level. The Caribbean coastline has many gulfs and
bays: the Gulf of Gonâve,
Venezuela, Gulf of Darien,
Golfo de los Mosquitos and
Gulf of Honduras.
The name "Caribbean" is derived from the Caribs
, one of the dominant American Indian
the region at the time of European
during the late 15th century. After the discovery of the West Indies by Christopher
Columbus in 1492, the Spanish term Antillas was assigned to the lands; stemming from
this, "Sea of the Antilles" is a common alternative name for the
Caribbean Sea in various European languages.
first century of development, the Spanish dominance was
The Caribbean Sea was an unknown body of water to the populations
until 1492 when Christopher Columbus
first sailed into
Caribbean waters while trying to find a route to Asia. At that time
the Western Hemisphere in general was unknown to Europeans.
Following the discovery of the islands by Columbus, the area was
quickly colonized by several Western
. Following the colonization of the Caribbean islands,
the Sea became a busy area for European-based marine trading and
transport, and this commerce eventually attracted piracy
Today the area is home to 22 island territories and borders 12
continental countries. Because of an abundance of sunshine,
year-round tropical temperatures moderated by the almost constant
, and the great variety of
scenic destinations to visit, during the second half of the 20th
century on into the 21st, the Caribbean Sea became a popular place
for tourism, and this trend has favored the increasing development
of the cruise industry in the area (see Cruising
and Cruise ship
The Caribbean Sea is an oceanic sea largely situated on the
. Estimates of the
sea's age range from 20,000 years to 570 million years. The
Caribbean sea floor is divided into five basins
separated from each other by underwater
ridges and mountain ranges. Atlantic Ocean enters the Caribbean through
the Anegada Passage lying between the Lesser Antilles and Virgin Islands and the Windward
Passage located between Cuba and Haiti.
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
Despite this, the Caribbean Sea is considered a
relatively shallow sea in comparison to other bodies of
Caribbean sea floor is also home to two oceanic trenches: the Hispaniola Trench and Puerto Rico
Trench, which put the area at a higher risk of earthquakes.
Underwater earthquakes pose a
threat of generating tsunamis
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.
The Caribbean is home to about 9% of the world's coral reefs
covering about , most of which are
located off the Caribbean Islands and the Central American
coast. Currently, unusually
warm Caribbean waters are endangering the Caribbean coral reefs.
Coral Reefs support some of the most diverse habitats in the world,
but are fragile ecosystems. When tropical waters exceed for an
extended period of time, microscopic plants called zooxanthellae
die off. These plants provide
food for the coral and give them their color. The resultant
bleaching of the coral reefs kills them, and ruins the ecosystem.
Up to 42% of the coral colonies have gone completely white, while
95% have undergone at least some bleaching. The habitats supported
by the reefs are critical to such tourist activities as fishing
provide an annual economic value to Caribbean nations of $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
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
by 15 countries. Also several
charitable organizations have been formed to preserve the Caribbean
marine life, such as Caribbean Conservation Corporation
which seeks to study and protect sea
while educating others about them.
The Caribbean weather is influenced by the Gulf Stream
and Humboldt Current ocean currents
. The tropical location of the
sea helps the water to maintain a warm temperature ranging from the
low of 70 to mid-80 degrees
by the season.
The Caribbean is a focal area for many hurricane
within the Western Hemisphere. A
series of low pressure systems develop off the West coast of Africa
and make their way across the Atlantic Ocean. While most of these
systems do not become tropical storms, some do. The tropical storms
can develop into Atlantic
, often in the low pressure areas of the eastern
Caribbean. The Caribbean hurricane season as a whole lasts from
June to December, 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
hurricanes occurred in the Caribbean between 1494 and 1900.
Every year hurricanes represent a potential threat to the islands
of the Caribbean, due to the extremely destructive nature of these
powerful weather systems. Coral reefs can easily be damaged by
violent wave action, and can be destroyed when a hurricane dumps
sand or mud onto the a reef . When this happens, the coral
organisms are smothered and the reef dies and ultimately breaks
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 per year. The area also generates a large fishing
industry for the surrounding countries, accounting for half a
million metric tons of fish a year.
Human activity in the area also accounts for a significant amount
of pollution, Pan American Health Organization estimating 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.
The Caribbean region supports a large tourist industry. The
Caribbean Tourism Organization
calculates that about 12
million people a year visit the area, including (in 1991–1992)
about 8 million Cruise Ship tourists.
The Caribbean is the setting for countless literary efforts often
related to piracy
. One memorable work of pulp
fiction has in its title a geographic feature unique in its way to
the islands: Fear Cay
, the eleventh Doc Savage
adventure by Lester Dent
. Many James
adventures were set there. It is also well known as the location of
the Pirates of the
Caribbean films, featuring Port Royal.
Less swashbuckling, but not lacking in
man-against-the-sea exploits, is Peter Matthiessen's Far
(1975), which chronicles the adventures of a turtling
crew in the late 1960's.
- The Caribbean Sea World Wildlife Fund. Website
last accessed 5 December 2008
- The Caribbean Sea All The Sea. URL last accessed May
- Status of coral reefs in the Caribbean and Atlantic
Ocean World Resource Institute. URL accessed on April 29,
- Bleaching Threatens Caribbean Coral Reefs. CBS
News. URL accessed on April 29, 2006.
- Alarm sounded for Caribbean coral. BBC News.
URL accessed on April 29, 2006.
- Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and
Wildlife to the Convention for the Protection and Development of
the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (SPAW)
NOAA Fisheries: Office of Protected Resources. URL accessed on
April 30, 2006.
- Caribbean Conservation Corporation Orion
Online. URL last accessed May 1, 2006.
- NASA Satellites Record a Month for the Hurricane
- Silverstein, Alvin (1998) Weather And Climate (Science
Concepts); page 17. 21st Century. ISBN 0-7613-3223-5
- An Overview of Land Based Sources of Marine Pollution
Caribbean Environment Programme. URL last accessed May 14, 1
- LME 12: Caribbean Sea NOAA Fisheries Northeast
Fisheries Science Center Narragansett Laboratory. URL last accessed
May 14, 2006.
- Snyderman, Marty (1996) Guide to Marine Life:
Caribbean-Bahamas-Florida; page 13-14, 19. Aqua Quest Publications,
Inc. ISBN 1-881652-06-8
- Glover K., Linda (2004) Defying Ocean's End: An Agenda For
Action; page 9. Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-755-2
- Peters, Philip Dickenson (2003) Caribbean WOW 2.0; page 100.
Islandguru Media. ISBN 1-929970-04-8