Official name: Commonwealth of the Bahamas
Area: 13,940 square kilometers (5,382 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Alvernia, Cat Island (63 meters/206 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Western
Time zone: 7 A.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 950 kilometers (590 miles) from southeast to northwest; 298 kilometers (185 miles) from northeast to southwest
Land boundaries: Bahamas is made up of islands.
Coastline: 3,542 kilometers (2,201 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
The Commonwealth of the Bahamas occupies an archipelago that straddles the Tropic of Cancer at the northwestern end of the West Indies (islands lying between southeastern North America and northern South America), about 80 kilometers (50 miles) off the southeast coast of Florida. The Bahamas have a land area of 13,940 square kilometers (5,382 square miles), spread out over approximately 233,000 square kilometers (90,000 square miles) of water in the southwestern portion of the North Atlantic Ocean.
The Bahamas claims no territories or dependencies.
The Bahamas have a subtropical marine climate moderated by warm breezes from the Gulf Stream (a warm current flowing north from the Gulf of Mexico along eastern North America) and the Atlantic Ocean. Rainfall averages 127 centimeters (50 inches) annually, with some variation among the different islands. Occasional hurricanes occur between mid-July and mid-November. Hurricanes can cause major damage from winds and flooding.
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The Bahamas encompass roughly seven hundred islands, as well as some two thousand rock formations, islets, and cays (pronounced keys, or low-lying islands). Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is located on New Providence Island, which occupies a central position in the archipelago (island chain) and is the most densely populated. Collectively, the rest of the inhabited Bahamas islands are known as the Family Islands. Most of these land masses are long, narrow, and fringed by coral reefs.
The Bahamas are spread over approximately 233,000 square kilometers (90,000 square miles) of water in the southwestern portion of the North Atlantic Ocean, between the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea.
The numerous coral reefs on the shorelines of the Bahamas combine with iron compounds to produce rare and beautiful colors in the shallow seas surrounding the islands. The Pelican Cay National Park, an underwater nature preserve, is found on Abaco Island.
Numerous inlets and straits separate the islands of the Bahamas from each other and from neighboring islands and archipelagos. Sea passages that lie between islands of the Bahamas include the Northeast and Northwest Providence Channels, Exuma Sound (which lies roughly at the center of the Bahamas), Crooked Island Passage, and Mayaguana Passage. The Caicos Passage separates the Bahamas from the Turks and Caicos islands to the southeast, and the Old Bahama Channel separates Great Bahamas Bank from Cuba to the south. To the west, the Straits of Florida lie between the Bahamas and Florida.
The most important island is New Providence, home to the capital city of Nassau. It has an area of 13,939 square kilometers (5,382 square miles). Andros, at 10,688 square kilometers (4,160 square miles) is the largest island; other inhabited islands include Great Abaco, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama, Cat Island, San Salvador, Long Island, Great Exuma, Crooked Island, Acklin Island, Mayaguana, Bimini (just 77 kilometers/48 miles from Florida), and Great Inagua. On Great Inagua, reptiles, wild boar, and other wildlife roam freely.
The eastern shore is generally the lowest point on the islands. Some of the islands (especially the long narrow ones in the middle section of the archipelago) have smooth coastlines, while others have numerous indentations, including peninsulas and lagoons. Coastal wetlands and mangrove swamps are common throughout the archipelago.
There are a few small lakes and ponds on the islands of the Bahamas.
None of the islands of the Bahamas is large enough to support significant rivers or lakes, although there are many small streams.
The Bahamas has no desert areas.
The terrain of the Bahamas is mostly flat and low, rising only a few feet above sea level in most places.
There are no true mountains in the archipelago, and only a few hills. The tallest point is the limestone-cliff-sided Mount Alvernia on Cat Island (63 meters /206 feet), which once hosted a monastery on its summit.
There are a number of caves on the islands, some of which were used as refuges for earlier settlers. On Eleuthera, there is a cave that extends for more than 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) and contains impressive stalagmites and stalactites.
The Bahamas has no plateaus.
There are a number of bridges connecting the islands of the Bahamas. Paradise Island Bridge connects New Providence Island (Nassau) to Paradise Island. A bridge joins the Eleuthera mainland to Windemere Island. The Dam Bridge connects Alexander, Exuma, Brigantine Cay, and Barreterra.
Dulles, Wink, and Marael Johnson. Fielding's Bahamas . Redondo Beach, CA: Fielding Worldwide, 1997.
Lloyd, Harvey. Isles of Eden: Life in the Southern Family Islands of the Bahamas . Akron, OH: Benjamin Publishing, 1991.
Permenter, Paris, and John Bigley. The Bahamas: A Taste of the Islands . Edison, NJ: Hunter, 2000.
Geographia Tourist Guide to the Bahamas. http://www.geographia.com/bahamas/ (accessed February 7, 2003).