The Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean Sea is a body of water adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of the Gulf of Mexico. It is bordered by Venezuela, Colombia and Panama to the south, Central American countries (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize) on the west; with the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico) on the north and the Lesser Antilles on the east.
This sea covers an area of approximately 2,754,000 km2 (1,063,000 square miles). The deepest site in this sea is the Cayman Trench between Cuba and Jamaica at 7500 m below the surface, although average depth is 2200 m (Spalding et al. 2001).

The complete area of the Caribbean Sea, including its numerous islands, is known as the Wider Caribbean.

The Wider Caribbean Region includes 35 states and territories that border two interconnected watersheds: the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. It includes continental countries, insular nations and dependent territories. On the eastern side of the region's perimeter is the Insular Caribbean: islands of the Greater and Lesser Antilles and the chain of islands in the Bahamas to the north.

The states of the United States around the Gulf of Mexico, the littoral zone of Mexico, Central America the northern states of South America complete the terrestrial perimeter that delimits the two main watersheds of the region. In other words, the Wider Caribbean includes the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and adjacent zones of the Atlantic Ocean south of the 30° northern latitude and within the 200 nautical miles of the Atlantic coasts of the states.

The boundary nations of the Caribbean Sea are Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, United States, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela and the overseas territories of France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Because of its physical-chemical conditions, the Caribbean Sea has large areas of coral reef and seagrass pasture; 14% of the world's coral reefs are present in this zone (Spalding et al. 2001).

In the tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea the average temperature is 27°C and it varies no more than 3°C. Salinity is highest from January to May and lowest from June to December. Toward fall in the northern hemisphere, salinity drops in the southeastern end of the Caribbean Sea, due to discharges from the Orinoco and Amazon River watersheds.

There is a principal marine current that passes through the Lesser Antilles past southern Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic toward the strait between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba to enter the Gulf of Mexico. Other important currents are the gyre between Nicaragua and Colombia, the current in the Gulf of Mexico and the current that exits the Gulf passing through the Straights of Florida.


Sources: Spalding, M., C. Ravilious & E. Green. 2001. World Atlas of Coral Reefs. University of California Press, Berkeley, USA. 424 p.
Political boundaries in the Caribbean Sea. / ©: Defying Ocean End, Conservation Mapping Program, GIS & Mapping Laboratory of the Center of Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International, 2003
Political boundaries in the Caribbean Sea. Click to enlarge.
© Defying Ocean End, Conservation Mapping Program, GIS & Mapping Laboratory of the Center of Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International, 2003
Animation of monthly temperatures in the Caribbean. / ©: G. Samuels, RSMAS
Animation of monthly temperatures in the Caribbean. Click to enlarge.
© G. Samuels, RSMAS
Animation of monthly salinity in the Caribbean Sea. / ©: Judy Gray and Doug Wilson of NOAA/NODC, 2004
Animation of monthly salinity in the Caribbean Sea. Click to enlarge.
© Judy Gray and Doug Wilson of NOAA/NODC, 2004
Animation of currents in the Caribbean Sea. / ©: G. Samuels, RSMAS. 2004
Animation of currents in the Caribbean Sea. Click to enlarge.
© G. Samuels, RSMAS. 2004

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