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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands


Trinidad and Tobago are the southernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles, located close to the South American continental shelf (see fig. 1). Trinidad lies 11 kilometers off the northeast coast of Venezuela and 130 kilometers south of the Grenadines. It is 60 kilometers long and 80 kilometers at its maximum breadth and comprises an area of 4,828 square kilometers. Trinidad appears rectangular in shape with three projecting peninsular corners. Tobago is located thirty kilometers northeast of Trinidad, from which it is separated by a channel thirty-seven kilometers wide. The island is 42 kilometers long and 13 kilometers wide, with a total area of 300 square kilometers. Tobago is cigar-shaped in appearance and has a northeast-southwest alignment.

Geologically, the islands are not part of the Antillean arc. Rather, Trinidad was once part of the South American mainland, and Tobago is part of a sunken mountain chain related to the continent. The islands are now separated from the continent of South America by the Gulf of Paria; a nineteen-kilometer-wide northern passage-- Dragon's Mouths; and a fourteen-kilometer-wide southern passage-- Serpent's Mouth (see fig. 6).

Trinidad is traversed by three distinct mountain ranges that are a continuation of the Venezuelan coastal cordillera. The Northern Range, an outlier of the Andes Mountains of Venezuela, consists of rugged hills that parallel the coast. This range rises into two peaks. The highest, El Cerro del Aripo, is 940 meters high; the other, El Tucuche, reaches 936 meters. The Central Range extends diagonally across the island and is a low-lying range with swampy areas rising to rolling hills; its maximum elevation is 325 meters. The Caroni Plain, composed of alluvial sediment, extends southward, separating the Northern Range and Central Range. The Southern Range consists of a broken line of hills with a maximum elevation of 305 meters.

There are numerous rivers and streams on the island of Trinidad; the most significant are the Ortoire River, fifty kilometers long, which extends eastward into the Atlantic, and the forty-kilometer-long Caroni River, reaching westward into the Gulf of Paria. Most of the soils of Trinidad are fertile, with the exception of the sandy and unstable terrain found in the southern part of the island.

Tobago is mountainous and dominated by the Main Ridge, which is 29 kilometers long with elevations up to 640 meters. There are deep, fertile valleys running north and south of the Main Ridge. The southwestern tip of the island has a coral platform. Although Tobago is volcanic in origin, there are no active volcanoes. Forestation covers 43 percent of the island. There are numerous rivers and streams, but flooding and erosion are less severe than in Trinidad. The coastline is indented with numerous bays, beaches, and narrow coastal plains.

Tobago has several small satellite islands. The largest of these, Little Tobago, is starfish shaped, hilly, and consists of 120 hectares of impenetrable vegetation.

Trinidad and Tobago, well within the tropics, both enjoy a generally pleasant maritime tropical climate influenced by the northeast trade winds. In Trinidad the annual mean temperature is 26°C, and the average maximum temperature is 33°C. The humidity is high, particularly during the rainy season, when it averages 85 to 87 percent. The island receives an average of 211 centimeters of rainfall per year, usually concentrated in the months of June through December, when brief, intense showers frequently occur. Precipitation is highest in the Northern Range, which may receive as much as 381 centimeters. During the dry season, drought plagues the island's central interior. Tobago's climate is similar to Trinidad's but slightly cooler. Its rainy season extends from June to December; the annual rainfall is 250 centimeters. The islands lie outside the hurricane belt; despite this, Hurricane Flora damaged Tobago in 1963, and Tropical Storm Alma hit Trinidad in 1974, causing damage before obtaining full strength.

Because it was once part of South America, Trinidad has an assortment of tropical vegetation and wildlife considerably more varied than that of most West Indian islands. Tobago has a generally similar but less varied assortment.

Data as of November 1987

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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents