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About Barbados: Geography
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The Geography of Barbados

The Island of Barbados is the most easterly in the Caribbean chain of islands (Lesser Antilles). Its splendid isolated location is at Latitude 13 10 N and Longitude 59 32 W. Measuring 23km (14 miles) at its widest point, 34km (21 miles) long and a mere area of 430 square km (166 sq miles). The highest point is 1,100ft (336m) above sea level at Mount Hillaby in St Andrew and the lowest is the Atlantic Ocean (0 m). The population> is approximately 280,946 (2007) and growing. Racially, the island is predominantly African slave-descended blacks. The main religion is Christianity with small groups of Hindus, Muslins and Jews.

Geographically Barbados is north-east of Venezuela or south-east or Miami and is not a part of the Arc of Caribbean islands since only the West Coast of the Caribbean lies in the Caribbean Sea. The North and East Coasts however lie in the Atlantic Ocean. For this reason, these coasts are known to be really dangerous with very high waves and strong currents but the South Coast has some decent swells making it excellent for any form of surfing.

The island is largely surrounded by coral reefs extending in some places 3 metres seaward which results in the fine, white sand that makes up our beaches. These coral reefs also protect our coastlines. Before Barbados was settled by the British in 1627, numerous Mangrove swamps surrounded the island and protected the reefs. Unfortunately, many of these swamps have been destroyed so hotels could be constructed. Fortunately (2) of them remain today; the Chancery Lane Swamp and the popular Graeme Hall Swamp. These are Barbados' wetlands and are of international significance because they are important migrating Fish and Bird areas. Recently steps have been taken to preserve the precious swamps and coral reefs with several ships been sunk at strategic points along the island to make artificial reefs.

Barbados Topography

The topography of Barbados is divided mainly into the Limestone lands and the Scotland District. The Limestone Lands cover most of the island and is divided into 5 sub-regions.

Flatlands - St Lucy
A wide flat region stretching across the northern part of the island.

Uplands - Central
This stretches from Mt. Gilboa in St. Lucy to Chimborazo in St. Joseph reaching a height of approximately 1,116ft (340m). The landscape dips in St George forming the St. George Valley, separating the main limestone areas in the northeast from the lower limestone ridge at the south in the Christ Church area. (Elevations in Christ Church Ridge: approximately 60 - 120m [400ft])

Terraces and Cliffs - West & South
These surface features are on the western and southern side of the island and stretch from the north in St Lucy to the south in Christ Church.
West side: Rises from the west coast upwards to the central region causing a staircase effect. 
South side: The effect is not as developed on its way to Bridgetown, due to the obstruction of the St George valley meeting the Carlisle Bay coastline.

Valleys - St George & St Philip
This is a wide lowlands area which crosses the widest section of the island, separating the central uplands from the southern region.

Dome - Christ Church
A low dome shaped upland rises from the south to approximately 400ft at Mt. Friendship in St. Michael.


Relatively flat compared to its volcanic neighbours, Barbados is one of the few coral capped limestone islands in the region. The fact that the island is made up of over 85% coral limestone, about 20 - 30m thick and underlain by sedimentary rock means that most of its surface water runs off underground. The limestone rocks act as a filter for the underground water so when the water passes through these rocks, it is filtered. This is the main reason why the water in Barbados is of such a high quality.

In its configuration the island is elevated but not mountainous with elevations ranging from 180 - 240m (589-786ft) above sea level. Near the centre is its apex, Mount Hillaby 336m (1,100 ft.), from which the land falls on all sides in a series of terraces to the sea. Hillaby is just west of the breathtaking Scotland District in St. Andrew, St. Joseph and St. John. So gentle is the incline of the hills that in driving over the well constructed roads the ascent is scarcely noticeable. This dramatically rugged area comprises one sixth of the island and meets the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast coastline.

In the Scotland District located on the eastern side of the island, the erosion of the limestone cap means that the area is made up of clay, sandstone and shale with jutting rocky spikes and ridges. Small streams can be found in this area along with lots of soil erosion and crop loss due to landslides. The Scotland series sandstones and clays were laid down under the sea over 60 million years ago.

The Oceanic series rocks are fine white clays, locally known as chalk which was laid down in deep sea conditions.

The coral limestone cap was formed as the island was uplifted by earth movements over the past 600,000 years. It has been arched upwards to form two broad anticlines, one in the centre of the island and one in the south.

Several deep Gullies dot the island, which channel rainwater down to the coast. This is one of the reasons why there are not many rivers since water does not stay on the surface for long. One of the island's more popular gullies, Welchman Hall Gully is home to numerous indigenous trees and shrubs and both migratory and indigenous birds. Another would be Jack in the Box Gully (Jack-in-the-box) located in St Thomas.

There are a few Rivers and with the exception of the Constitution River in Bridgetown, all are located in the hilly parishes of St Andrew and St Joseph. This is because the rocks of the Scotland District are not permeable, forcing the water to settle on the surface. The rivers of Barbados are: the Long Pond River in St Andrew, Joe's River in St Joseph and Bruce Vale River in St Andrew.

The island is also home to several Caves, the most famous being Harrison's Cave and the Animal Flower Cave. The parish of St. Lucy, in the north, is known for its sea caves which are said to have been formed over 500,000 years ago.

Prior to the settlement of Barbados in 1627, the island was covered in dense Tropical Rainforest. Unfortunately, almost all of this forest was cut down. Only two examples of this forest remain: Turner's Hall Woods and Joes River Rain Forest.

Barbados was geographically divided into (6) parishes in 1629: St. Lucy, St. Peter, St. James, St. Thomas, Christ Church and St. Michael. Later in 1645, it was divided into the present 11 Parishes: St. Lucy, St. Peter, St. James, St. Thomas, Christ Church, St. Michael, St. Joseph, St. Andrew, St. John, St. George and St. Philip.

In Bridgetown, the capital can be found architectural monuments looming side by side, along the main street and principal commercial centre. It is also the largest and liveliest city in Barbados. Barbados also has outlying urban areas. In the south, the main town is Oistins, a busy little fishing village with a number of Rum Shops where you can experience the true Barbadian culture. Moving northwards along the west coast is first Holetown, which is very commercially developed with lots of shopping facilities and an area of historic significance as this is where the British first settled when they came. Further North in St. Peter is Speightstown, a fishing village which is still very reminiscent of its bygone days. It is a true blend of old and new with modern shops sitting between old time balconied wooden buildings.

The only natural harbour is Carlisle Bay on the south-western coast, which is only accessible to light draught vessels


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