Located on the northeast coast of South America, and extending from 1° 30′ to 5° 30′ N and from 51° 4′ to 54° 3′ W , French Guiana (Guyane Française) has an Atlantic shoreline of about 320 km (200 mi) and a total area of some 91,000 sq km (35,000 sq mi). It is separated from Brazil by the Oyapock River in the E and the Tumuc-Humac Mountains in the S (440 km/273 mi); and from Suriname by the Maroni River (398 km/247 mi) on the W . Its length is about 400 km (250 mi) N–S , and its width is 300 km (190 mi) E–W . Several islands offshore are part of French Guiana including: the Îles du Salut (Devil's Island, Royale, and Saint-Joseph).
French Guiana consists of a small, low swampy coast called "terres basses," varying from 10 to 30 km (6–19 mi) in width, and a vast, partly unexplored interior, the "terres hautes," with grassy plateaus, equatorial forests (which cover 90% of the land area), and mountains. The mean annual temperature along the coast is 26° C (80° F ) year-round. There is a rainy season from January to June; annual rainfall has a range of 350–400 cm (140–160 in). Average humidity is 85%. Endangered species in 2002 included the small-footed water rat, giant armadillo, giant otter, three species of turtle (South American river, olive ridley, and leatherback), and the black caiman.
The population was estimated at 182,333 in mid-2002. Four-fifths of the inhabitants live in the coastal lowlands, and about 55% of the total live in Cayenne, the capital city. About 66% of the population is either black or mixed-raced, 12% is white, 12% is either of East Indian, Chinese, or Amerindian origin, and 10% belongs to other ethnic origins. In the interior are six tribes of aboriginal Indians; descendants of fugitive black slaves from Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) have settled along the rivers. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion. The official language is French.
Amerindian tribes inhabited the region from ancient times, but their numbers probably did not exceed 25,000 on the eve of European colonization. The land now known as French Guiana was first settled by Frenchmen in 1604 and was awarded to France by the Peace of Breda in 1667. Since 1946, it has been an overseas department, sending, in 1986, two deputies and one senator to the French parliament and one representative to the French Economic and Social Council. The old penal settlements to which French prisoners were once deported have been completely liquidated. Devil's Island, the most famous of the offshore penal colonies, operated from 1851 until 1951. French Guiana consists of Cayenne and St.-Laurent-du-Maroni, each of which has the status of an arrondissement. The French commissioner is assisted by a popularly elected 19-member general council and a 31-member regional council.
Arable land and labor both being scarce, agriculture in French Guiana is still in a primitive state. Trade is mainly with France. The territory's exports, mainly shrimp, timber, gold, rosewood essence, and clothing totaled US $155 million in 1997; imports totaled US $625 million. Gold, which has been mined since 1853, and large deposits of bauxite are the chief mineral resources. An estimated 2,500 kg of gold were extracted in 1995. The European Space Agency launches communications satellites from Kourou.
Education for French Guiana's children is compulsory and provided by the government, which has constructed 66 primary and 19 secondary schools. The Pasteur Institute, five hospitals, and other health units provide public health services. The infant mortality rate in 2002 was 13.22 deaths per 1,000 live births up slightly from 12.93 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1999.