First in a series of four stories about the history of the Antilles Office
Jacksonville District’s area of responsibility includes the Antilles and Puerto Rico, but some have only a vague idea of the location of the Antilles, its relationship with the United States, and what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does there. This first installment in a series provides a bird’s eye view of the Antilles.
The Antilles is an archipelago, or chain of islands, stretching more than 1,500 miles between in North and South America, bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south. The Antilles are divided into two sections, the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. The Greater Antilles, made up of continental rock, is geologically distinct from the Lesser Antilles, which is mostly young volcanic or coral islands. Geographically, the Antilles are considered to be part of North America or Central America. Culturally, many of the countries are included in Latin America.
The Greater Antilles, made up of the larger islands to the north and west, include Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Hispaniola (Haiti on the west and the Dominican Republic on the east) and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico, the smallest of the four main islands, is a U.S. Commonwealth.
Puerto Rico is not just one island, but rather an archipelago within the Antilles archipelago. The main island of Puerto Rico, known as La Isla Grande, is about 100 miles long and 35 miles wide.
Vieques, a 52-square-mile municipality, is located eight miles east of Puerto Rico. The island’s highest peak, Monte Pirata, stands 1,000 feet high and although the island has no rivers, it has lagoons and fertile soil. One of its most unique areas is Mosquito Bay, one of only five areas in the world populated by bioluminescent organisms that glow as they move in the water.
The island municipality of Culebra is located 17 miles east of the main island of Puerto Rico. About ten square miles in size, it has arid soil that is used for pasture land and fruit farming. The island’s beaches are reputedly among the most beautiful in the world, and the sea provides excellent fishing, snorkeling and diving opportunities.
The Lesser Antilles includes the northerly Leeward Islands, the southeasterly Windward Islands, and the Leeward Antilles, just north of Venezuela. The U.S. Virgin Islands, a United States territory, are located in the Leeward Islands, and include the islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island. In 1917, the U.S. purchased the islands from Denmark as a defensive strategy to maintain control in the Caribbean and Panama Canal during World War I.
Coming in next month’s issue: What is the relationship between the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands?