According to ABBREVIATIONFINDER, Central America is the land area between South America and Mexico, bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The area includes Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. A table of Caribbean countries, capitals, population and area can be found on Countryaah – Countries in Central America. The term Central America, which is often used synonymously, also includes Mexico and the countries of the Caribbean.
Apart from Panama and Belize (formerly British Honduras), states have entered into political and economic alliances several times since the secession from Spain in the 1820’s. Attempts to restore the Central American Union (1823-approx. 1840) have been unsuccessful, however, just as the Organization of Central American States (1951) and the Central American Common Market (1960) have had only limited success in efforts to establish closer regional cooperation.
Derogatoryly, the states are referred to as “banana republics”, which partly refers to a significant export of bananas, and partly used as a term for countries where chaotic political conditions prevail.
Since the late 1800’s. the countries, also known as the “backyard of the United States”, have at times been strongly influenced by the political, economic and military influence of the United States.
Caribbean Sea, by-sea to the Atlantic Ocean, bounded on the east and north by the Antilles arch, on the west and south by Central and South America; 1.94 million km2. The islands’ original residents, the Caribbean, have given the area its name.
The ocean is located in the tropical belt and has coral reefs along most shores. The winds are quite constant, but the northeast trade is interrupted every autumn by tropical hurricanes. Caribbean shipping includes Venezuelan oil exports, Panama Canal transit traffic and Antilles tourism with a myriad of pleasure craft and cruise ships.
The Caribbean Sea is part of the American Mediterranean (Mediterranean, ie a larger sea area that separates the continents). It can be topographically divided into the Yucatan Sea, the Cayman Tomb, the Colombian and Venezuelan basins. The bottom depths are predominantly in the range 3000-6000 m, the largest depth (Bartlett depth, 7200 m) is found in the Cayman tomb.
Current conditions are completely dominated by the inflow from the Atlantic Ocean via the Guyana Current. This water, which comes from the North and South Equatorial Streams, is 27-28 °C and very saline (36-37 ‰). From the Caribbean Sea, it flows on to the Gulf of Mexico, where it joins Florida with the Antilles to the Gulf Stream. At greater depths, there is water that originates from immersion processes at resp. North Pole and Antarctica. This water has temperatures of 2-5 °C and salinities around 34.9 ‰. As water exchange in the bottom layer is to some extent prevented by the thresholds at the borders of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico (approximately 1600 m), oxygen-free conditions exist in certain deep areas of the Caribbean Sea, for example in the Cariacodybet off Venezuela.
Biogeographically, the southernmost part of Florida, the Bahamas and sometimes Bermuda in the Caribbean region are usually included, with fauna and flora first changing north of these areas. In its natural state, the Caribbean Sea is characterized by low levels of dissolved nutrients and low production of phytoplankton. Therefore, the water is very clear and the sunlight can penetrate to great depths. Some of the deepest living algae are described from here.
Three types of ecosystems are important in this area: coral reefs, seagrass meadows and mangroves. Off the coast, coral reefs grow. Over 60 species of rock corals are known from the area, but it is a few species that dominate most places, such as the deer coral, Acropora. In the Caribbean Sea, there are especially many species of the so-called “soft” corals (horn corals, octocorals, gorgonias), e.g. the large branched sea fan Gorgonia ventalina. The limestone spikes of the horn corals form a significant part of the bottom sediment in Caribbean coral reef areas. Coral reefs are finely tuned ecosystems where many different organisms occupy highly specialized niches. Microscopic algae live in symbiosis with coral polyps. Coral reefs are also home to many seafood. Human activities pose a threat to this ecosystem. Mass tourism and overfishing in connection with population growth have, for example, meant that the coral reefs around Jamaica in the period 1980-93 have been reduced by 90%. Some of the fishing methods involve breaking large pieces of the coral. When the corals die, the fish lose their habitat, after which large algae such as sargasso seaweed, Sargassum, overgrow the reefs.
Seagrasses, such as turtle grass, Thalassia, form dense meadows. Here lives the large snail Strombus gigas, which is considered a delicacy in the Caribbean, and whose shells previously adorned many Danish gardens. Along many shores are mangroves, which are extensive mud flats with large trees whose aerial roots protrude from the mud. The mangroves are breeding grounds for fry of many fish.
Despite their outward beauty, many of the coral reef’s residents are stinging, burning, biting or poisonous. Among the stings, sea urchins can be mentioned in particular, e.g. the long-spiked, black sea urchin Diadema with spikes up to 30 cm long. Fire corals, Millepora, burn worse than wood jellyfish. Biting animals include sharks, barracuda and moray eels. Especially around the small islands, the neurotoxin ciguatera accumulates in the large predatory fish, e.g. barracuda. The poison is not destroyed by heating and freezing and cannot be tasted. Poisoning most often requires hospital treatment and it can take years before the symptoms go away.
Wildlife in the deep waters of the Caribbean Sea is also very varied. Recently, at approximately 3000 m depth in the Gulf of Mexico west of Florida found a distinctive fauna associated with leaking methane and sulfide. Many of these animals have symbiontic bacteria that can utilize hydrogen sulfide. Some of the animals lack an intestinal tract and are completely dependent on the symbiontic bacteria.