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Caribbean Islands-Geography

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Caribbean Islands Index

The Cayman Islands are located in the Caribbean Sea south of Cuba, from which they are separated at the closest point by about 240 kilometers (see fig. 19). The three islands are an outcropping of the Cayman Ridge, a submarine mountain range that extends west from the Sierra Maestra mountain range in Cuba. Grand Cayman is the largest of the islands with a total area of 195 square kilometers. Cayman Brac, 142 kilometers northeast of Grand Cayman, is only 20 kilometers long by 2 kilometers wide. Little Cayman, eight kilometers west of Cayman Brac, is sixteen kilometers by two kilometers in size. The total land area of the three islands is 260 square kilometers, or approximately that of Austin, Texas.

All three islands are low lying and are composed of limestone and consolidated coral. A seventeen-meter hill at the northwest tip of Grand Cayman is its highest point. The highest point on Little Cayman is only twelve meters in elevation. Cayman Brac is distinguished by a forty-three-meter limestone cliff that rises from the sea on its eastern tip. Vegetation is largely scrub with mangrove swamps covering about a third of all the islands' area.

The climate is tropical, tempered by the northeasterly trade winds. Temperatures are fairly constant, ranging from summer maximums of 30°C to winter minimums of 20°C. The rainy season extends from mid-May through October; the remaining months are relatively dry. Hurricanes pose a threat from midsummer until November, although no hurricane has struck the islands directly since 1932.

Located 920 kilometers southeast of Miami and about 50 kilometers southeast of the Bahamian island of Mayaguana, the Turks and Caicos are a group of 8 major islands and more than 40 small islets and cays (see Glossary). The islands are made up of two groups separated by the thirty-five-kilometer-wide Turks Island Passage: the westernmost Caicos Islands, including six of the major islands, and the easternmost Turks Islands with the remaining two major islands (see fig. 20). The islands have a total land area of 430 square kilometers, about the size of San José, California.

Geologically, the islands are a part of the Bahamas archipelago, which rises above a shallow submarine platform. All are low lying, with the highest point barely fifteen meters above sea level. Soils are poor, shallow, and infertile. Low scrub covers most of the islands, although several of the larger Caicos Islands have stands of pine. Mangrove swamps fringe coastal areas. No streams are found on the islands, but a few have brackish ponds.

The climate is tropical with distinct wet and dry seasons. Annual precipitation varies from 100 to 150 centimeters. Rain falls in heavy brief showers, almost entirely in the period from May to October. Temperatures average 27°C in summer and 21°C in winter. Maximums and minimums seldom exceed 32°C or 16°C. In summer, trade winds blow from the southeast, whereas in winter the northeast trades predominate. Hurricanes occasionally affect the islands in late summer or fall.

Data as of November 1987

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