Sea (Spanish: Mar Caribe; French: Mer des Caraïbes;
Dutch: Caraïbische Zee) is a sea of the
Atlantic Ocean in the tropics
of the Western Hemisphere. It is bounded by
Mexico and Central America
to the west and south west, to the north by the Greater Antilles
starting with Cuba, to the east by the Lesser Antilles, and to the
south by the north coast of South America.
The entire area of the
Caribbean Sea, the numerous islands of the West
Indies, and adjacent coasts, are collectively known as 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.
Sea has the world's second biggest barrier reef, the
Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. It runs 1,000 km (620 mi) along
the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Flora and fauna
8 Economy and human activity
9 In popular culture
10 See also
13 Further reading
14 External links
Main article: History of the Caribbean
Christopher Columbus landing on
Hispaniola in 1492.
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 the discovery of America by Christopher
Columbus 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
From the 16th century, Europeans visiting the
identified the "South Sea" (the Pacific Ocean, to the south of the
isthmus of Panama) as opposed to the "North Sea" (the
to the north of the same isthmus).
Tulum, Maya city on the coast of the
Caribbean in the state of
Quintana Roo (Mexico)
Sea had been unknown to the populations of Eurasia until
Christopher Columbus sailed into
Caribbean waters on a
quest to find a sea route to Asia. At that time the Western Hemisphere
in general was unknown to Europeans. But first discovered between the
years 800 and 1000 by the vikings. Following the Eurasias discovery of
the islands by Columbus, The area was quickly colonised by several
Western cultures (initially Spain, then later England, the Dutch
Republic, France, Courland and Denmark). Following the colonisation of
Caribbean islands, the
Sea became a busy area for
European-based marine trading and transport, and this commerce
eventually attracted pirates such as
Samuel Bellamy and Blackbeard.
Piracy in the Caribbean)
Due to the abundance of sunshine, year-round tropical temperatures
moderated by the almost constant trade winds and the great variety of
scenic destinations to visit, during the second half of the 20th
century and on into the 21st the
Sea became a popular place
As of 2015[update] the area is home to 22 island territories and
borders 12 continental countries.
International Hydrographic Organization
International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the
Sea as follows:
On the North. In the Windward Channel – a line joining Caleta Point
(74°15′W) and Pearl Point (19°40′N) in Haïti. In the Mona
Passage – a line joining Cape Engaño and the extreme of Agujereada
(18°31′N 67°08′W / 18.517°N 67.133°W / 18.517;
-67.133) in Puerto Rico.
Coral reefs in the British Virgin Islands
Eastern limits. 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
Sea as far
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′N 61°0′W / 9.533°N
61.000°W / 9.533; -61.000) 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
Sea is an oceanic sea largely situated on the Caribbean
Sea is separated from the ocean by several island
arcs of various ages. The youngest stretches from the Lesser Antilles
Virgin Islands to the north east of
Trinidad and Tobago off the
coast of Venezuela. This arc was formed by the collision of the South
American Plate with the
Caribbean Plate and includes active and
extinct volcanoes such as Mount Pelee, the Quill (volcano) on Sint
Eustatius in the
Caribbean Netherlands and
Morne Trois Pitons
Morne Trois Pitons on
Dominica. The larger islands in the northern part of the sea Cuba,
Puerto Rico lie on an older island arc.
The geological age of the
Sea is estimated to be between 160
and 180 million years and was formed by a horizontal fracture
that split the supercontinent called
Pangea in the
Mesozoic Era. It
is assumed the proto-caribbean basin existed in the
In the early
Carboniferous movement of
Gondwana to the north and its
convergence with the
Euramerica basin decreased in size. The next
stage of the
Caribbean Sea's formation began in the Triassic. Powerful
rifting led to the formation of narrow troughs, stretching from modern
Newfoundland to the west coast of the Gulf of
Mexico which formed
siliciclastic sedimentary rocks. In the early
Jurassic due to powerful
marine transgression, water broke into the present area of the Gulf of
Mexico creating a vast shallow pool. The emergence of deep basins in
Caribbean occurred during the Middle
Jurassic rifting. The
emergence of these basins marked the beginning of the Atlantic Ocean
and contributed to the destruction of
Pangaea at the end of the late
Jurassic. During the
Caribbean acquired the shape close
to that seen today. In the early
Paleogene due to Marine regression
Caribbean became separated from the Gulf of
Mexico and the
Atlantic Ocean by the land of
Cuba and Haiti. The
like this for most of the
Cenozoic until the
Holocene when rising
water levels of the oceans restored communication with the Atlantic
The shaded relief map of the
Sea and Gulf of Mexico
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
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 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
Lesser Antilles and
Virgin Islands and the Windward Passage
Cuba and Haiti. The
Yucatán Channel between Mexico
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
Sea is considered a relatively shallow sea in comparison to
other bodies of water.
Sea view from Bodden Town, Grand Cayman
Caribbean plate tectonics
The pressure of the
South American Plate
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.
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.
List of islands in the Caribbean
Sketch of the
North Equatorial Current and the Gulf Stream
The hydrology 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
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 feet; 100 m) acts as an
extension of the northern Atlantic as the Guiana Current and part of
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.
Caribbean is home to about 9% of the world's coral reefs covering
about 50,000 km2 (19,000 sq mi), most of which are
located off the
Caribbean Islands and the Central American coast.
Among them stands out the
Belize Barrier Reef with an area of
963 km2 (372 sq mi) which was declared a World Heritage
Site in 1996. It forms part of the
Great Mayan Reef
Great Mayan Reef also known as the
MBRS and being over 1,000 km (600 mi) in length is the
world's second longest. It runs along the
Caribbean coasts of Mexico,
Guatemala and Honduras.
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.
Belize Barrier Reef photographed from the International Space
Station in 2016
The habitats supported by the reefs are critical to such tourist
activities as fishing and diving, and provide an annual economic value
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
came in effect in 1986 to protect the various endangered marine life
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
Caribbean marine life, such as
Caribbean Conservation Corporation
which seeks to study and protect sea turtles while educating others
Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico
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
Average sea surface temperatures for the
Caribbean Atlantic Ocean
(25–27 August 2005).
Hurricane Katrina is seen just above Cuba.
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
21–26 °C (70–79 °F) by the season.
Caribbean is a focal area for many hurricanes 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 hurricanes, often in the low
pressure areas of the eastern Caribbean. The
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
National Hurricane Center 385 hurricanes occurred in
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 a reef. When this happens, the coral organisms are smothered and
the reef dies and ultimately breaks apart.
Flora and fauna
The region has a high level of biodiversity and many species are
endemic to the Caribbean.
The vegetation of the region is mostly tropical but differences in
topography, soil and climatic conditions increase species diversity.
Where there are porous limestone terraced islands these are generally
poor in nutrients. It is estimated that 13,000 species of plants grow
Caribbean of which 6,500 are endemic. For example, guaiac wood
(Guaiacum officinale), the flower of which is the national flower of
Jamaica and the Bayahibe rose (Pereskia quisqueyana) which is the
national flower of the
Dominican Republic and the ceiba which is the
national tree of both
Puerto Rico and Guatemala. The mahogany is the
national tree of the
Dominican Republic and Belize. The caimito
(Chrysophyllum cainito) grows throughout the Caribbean. In coastal
zones there are coconut palms and in lagoons and estuaries are found
thick areas of black mangrove and red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle).
In shallow water flora and fauna is concentrated around coral reefs
where there is little variation in water temperature, purity and
salinity. Leeward side of lagoons provide areas of growth for sea
grasses. Turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) is common in the
Caribbean as is manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme) which can grow
together as well as in fields of single species at depths up to
20 m (66 ft). Another type shoal grass (Halodule wrightii)
grows on sand and mud surfaces at depths of up to 5 m
(16 ft). In brackish water of harbours and estuaries at depths
less than 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) widgeongrass (Ruppia
maritima) grows. Representatives of three species belonging to the
genus Halophila, (
Halophila engelmannii and
Halophila decipiens) are found at depths of up to 30 m
(98 ft) except for
Halophila engelmani which does not grow below
5 m (16 ft) and is confined to the Bahamas, Florida, the
Greater Antilles and the western part of the Caribbean. Halophila
baillonii has been found only in the Lesser Antilles.
Puerto Rican parrot
Green sea turtle,
Grand Cayman Island
Marine biota in the region have representatives of both the Indian and
Pacific oceans which were caught in the
Caribbean before the emergence
Isthmus of Panama
Isthmus of Panama four million years ago. In the Caribbean
Sea there are around 1,000 documented species of fish, including
sharks (bull shark, tiger shark, silky shark and
shark), flying fish, giant oceanic manta ray, angel fish, spotfin
butterflyfish, parrotfish, Atlantic Goliath grouper, tarpon and moray
eels. Throughout the
Caribbean there is industrial catching of lobster
and sardines (off the coast of Yucatán Peninsula).
There are 90 species of mammals in the
Caribbean including sperm
whales, humpback whales and dolphins. The island of
Jamaica is home to
seals and manatees. The
Caribbean monk seal which lived in the
Caribbean is considered extinct. The solenodon is endangered.
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.
Mona ground iguana
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 (loggerhead,
green turtle, hawksbill, 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
All 170 species of amphibians that live in the region are endemic. The
habitats of almost all members of the toad family, poison dart frogs,
tree frogs and leptodactylidae (a type of frog) are limited to only
one island. The Golden coqui is in serious threat of extinction.
Caribbean 600 species of birds have been recorded of which 163
are endemic such as the tody,
Fernandina's flicker and palmchat. The
American yellow warbler
American yellow warbler is found in many areas as is the green heron.
Of the endemic species 48 are threatened with extinction including the
Puerto Rican amazon, yellow-breasted crake and the Zapata wren.
According to Birdlife International in 2006 in
Cuba 29 species of bird
are in danger of extinction and two species officially extinct.
The black-fronted piping guan is endangered as is the plain pigeon.
The Antilles along with
Central America lie in the flight path of
migrating birds from North America so the size of populations is
subject to seasonal fluctuations. In the forests are found parrots,
bananaquit and toucans. Over the open sea can be seen frigatebirds and
Economy and human activity
A view of
Nevis island from the southeastern peninsula of Saint Kitts.
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] per year. 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
Caribbean region supports a large tourism 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.
Tourism based upon scuba diving and snorkeling
on coral reefs of many
Caribbean islands makes a major contribution to
In popular culture
This article appears to contain trivial, minor, or unrelated
references to popular culture. Please reorganize this content to
explain the subject's impact on popular culture rather than simply
listing appearances; add references to reliable sources if possible.
Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (January 2018)
Caribbean is the setting for countless literary efforts often
related to piracy acts and swashbuckling. 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.
James Bond adventures were set there. It is also well known as
the location of the Pirates of the
Caribbean films, featuring Port
Royal. Peter Matthiessen's Far Tortuga (1975) chronicles the
adventures of a turtling crew in the late 1960s.
Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Piracy in the Caribbean
Territorial evolution of the Caribbean
Cayo de Agua in Los Roques archipelago, Venezuela
Sunrise over the south beach of Jamaica
the island of San Andrés
Roatán, Bay Islands, Honduras
Cayo Largo, Cuba
Marie Galante, Guadeloupe
Scotts Head, Dominica
Great Blue Hole
Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize
Sea All The Sea. URL last accessed May 7, 2006
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Center For Advanced Study on
Puerto Rico and the Caribbean
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