Geography of Belize

Last updated
Geography of Belize
Belize topo.png
Continent Americas
Region Central America
Coordinates 17°15′N88°45′W / 17.250°N 88.750°W / 17.250; -88.750
Area Ranked 152th
  Total22,966 km2 (8,867 sq mi)
  Land99.3%
  Water0.7%
Coastline386 km (240 mi)
Borders Total land borders:
542 km
Guatemala 266 km,
Mexico 276 km
Highest pointDoyle's Delight
1,124 m
Lowest point Caribbean Sea
0 m
Longest river Belize River
290 km
Largest lakeNew River Lagoon

Belize is a small Central American nation, located at 17°15' north of the equator and 88°45' west of the Prime Meridian on the Yucatán Peninsula. It borders the Caribbean Sea to the east, with 386 km of coastline. It has a total of 542 km of land borders—Mexico to the north-northwest (272 km) and Guatemala to the south-southwest (266 km). Belize's total size is 22,966 km², of which 22,806 km² is land and 160 km² is water.

Belize country in Central America

Belize is an independent and sovereign country located on the north eastern coast of Central America. Belize is bordered on the northwest by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala. It has an area of 22,970 square kilometres (8,867 sq mi) and a population of 387,879 (2017). Its mainland is about 180 mi (290 km) long and 68 mi (110 km) wide. It has the lowest population and population density in Central America. The country's population growth rate of 1.87% per year (2015) is the second highest in the region and one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.

Central America central geographic region of the Americas

Central America is located on the southern tip of North America, or is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas, bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The combined population of Central America has been estimated to be 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.

A nation is an hypothesised stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, history, ethnicity, or psychological make-up manifested in a common culture. Scholars debate whether or not any such entities exist. A nation is distinct from a people, and is more abstract, and more overtly political, than an ethnic group. It is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests.

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Belize is the only country in Central America without a Pacific coastline. Many coral reefs, cays, and islands to the east—such as Ambergris Caye, Lighthouse Reef, Glover's Reef, and the Turneffe Islands—are part of Belize's territory, forming the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest in the western hemisphere stemming approximately 322 km (200 mi) and the second longest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. Belize's largest river is the eponymous Belize River. Belize's lowest elevation is at sea level. Its highest point is Doyle's Delight at 1,124 m (3,688 ft).

Pacific Ocean Ocean between Asia and Australia in the west, the Americas in the east and Antarctica or the Southern Ocean in the south.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.

Coral reef Outcrop of rock in the sea formed by the growth and deposit of stony coral skeletons

A coral reef is an underwater ecosystem characterized by reef-building corals. Reefs are formed of colonies of coral polyps held together by calcium carbonate. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, whose polyps cluster in groups.

Cay small island formed on the surface of a coral reef

A cay, also spelled caye or key, is a small, low-elevation, sandy island on the surface of a coral reef. Cays occur in tropical environments throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

The climate in Belize is tropical, with a rainy season from June to November and a dry season from January to May. Natural hazards include hurricanes (mostly in the late Atlantic hurricane season, September to December) and coastal flooding, especially in the south.

A natural hazard is a natural phenomenon that might have a negative effect on humans or the environment. Natural hazard events can be classified into two broad categories: geophysical and biological. Geophysical hazards encompass geological and meteorological phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, cyclonic storms, floods, droughts, avalanches and landslides. Biological hazards can refer to a diverse array of disease, infection, infestation and invasive species.

Tropical cyclone Is a rotating storm system

A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by different names, including hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, and simply cyclone. A hurricane is a tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean, and a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean; in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean, comparable storms are referred to simply as "tropical cyclones" or "severe cyclonic storms".

Atlantic hurricane season tropical cyclone season

The Atlantic hurricane season is the period in a year when hurricanes usually form in the Atlantic Ocean. Tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic are called hurricanes, tropical storms, or tropical depressions. In addition, there have been several storms over the years that have not been fully tropical and are categorized as subtropical depressions and subtropical storms. Even though subtropical storms and subtropical depressions are not technically as strong as tropical cyclones, the damages can still be devastating.

Physical features

Topographical feature divide the Belizean landscape into two main physiographic regions. The most visually striking of these regions is distinguished by the Maya Mountains and the associated basins and plateaus that dominate all but the narrow coastal plain in the southern half of the country. The mountains rise to heights of about 1,100 metres, with the highest point being Doyle's Delight (1,124 m) in the Cockscomb Range, a spur of the Maya Mountains in Western Belize. Covered with shallow, highly erodible soils of low fertility, these heavily forested highlands are very sparsely inhabited.

Maya Mountains mountain range

The Maya Mountains are a mountain range located in Belize and eastern Guatemala, in Central America.

Doyles Delight highest peak in Belize

Doyle's Delight is the highest peak in Belize at 1,124 m (3,688 ft). It lies in the Cockscomb Range, a spur of the Maya Mountains in Western Belize.

The second region comprises the northern lowlands, along with the southern coastal plain. Eighteen major rivers and many perennial streams drain these low-lying areas. The coastline is flat and swampy, with many lagoons, especially in the northern and central parts of the country. Westward from the northern coastal areas, the terrain changes from mangrove swamp to tropical pine savanna and hardwood forest.

Map of Belize's exclusive economic zone Maritime Boundaries of Belize.svg
Map of Belize's exclusive economic zone

Belize claims an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical mile s (370.4 km; 230.2 mi) and a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi). From the mouth of the Sarstoon River to Ranguana Cay, Belize's territorial sea is 3 nmi (5.6 km; 3.5 mi); according to Belize's Maritime Areas Act, 1992, the purpose of this limitation is to provide a framework for the negotiation of a definitive agreement on territorial differences with Guatemala.

Exclusive economic zone UN maritime boundary

An exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind. It stretches from the baseline out to 200 nautical miles (nmi) from its coast. In colloquial usage, the term may include the continental shelf. The term does not include either the territorial sea or the continental shelf beyond the 200 nmi limit. The difference between the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone is that the first confers full sovereignty over the waters, whereas the second is merely a "sovereign right" which refers to the coastal state's rights below the surface of the sea. The surface waters, as can be seen in the map, are international waters.

Nautical mile unit of distance (1852 m)

A nautical mile is a unit of measurement used in both air and marine navigation, and for the definition of territorial waters. Historically, it was defined as one minute of a degree of latitude. Today it is defined as exactly 1852 metres. The derived unit of speed is the knot, one nautical mile per hour.

Territorial waters Coastal waters that are part of a nation-states sovereign territory

The term territorial waters is sometimes used informally to refer to any area of water over which a state has jurisdiction, including internal waters, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and potentially the continental shelf. In a narrower sense, the term is used as a synonym for the territorial sea.

Belize is the only country in Central America without a coastline on the North Pacific Ocean.

Rivers

The interlocking networks of rivers, creeks, and lagoons have played a key role in the historical geography of Belize. The largest and most historically important river is the Belize River, which drains more than one-quarter of the country as it winds along the northern edge of the Maya Mountains across the center of the country to the sea near Belize City. Also known as the Old River, the Belize River is navigable up to the Guatemalan border and served as the main artery of commerce and communication between the interior and the coast until well into the twentieth century.

Other historically important rivers include the Sibun River, which drains the northeastern edge of the Maya Mountains, and the New River, which flows through the northern sugar-growing areas before emptying into Chetumal Bay. Both of these river valleys possess fertile alluvial soils and have supported considerable cultivation and human settlement.

Islands

Climate

Koppen climate classification zones of Belize. Koppen-Geiger Map BLZ present.svg
Köppen climate classification zones of Belize.

Belize has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean. Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 24 °C (75 °F) in January to 27 °C (81 °F) in July. Temperatures are slightly higher inland, except for the southern highland plateaus, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge, where it is noticeably cooler year round. Overall, the seasons are marked more by differences in humidity and rainfall than in temperature.

Average rainfall varies considerably, ranging from 1,350 millimeters (53.1 in) in the north and west to over 4,500 millimeters (177.2 in) in the extreme south. Seasonal differences in rainfall are greatest in the northern and central regions of the country where, between January and April or May, fewer than 100 millimeters (3.9 in) of rain fall per month. The dry season is shorter in the south, normally only lasting from February to April. A shorter, less rainy period, known locally as the "little dry," usually occurs in late July or August, after the initial onset of the rainy season.

Hurricanes

Hurricanes have played a devastating role in Belizean history. In 1931 an unnamed hurricane destroyed over two-thirds of the buildings in Belize City and killed more than 1,000 people. In 1955 Hurricane Janet leveled the northern town of Corozal. Six years later, Hurricane Hattie struck the central coastal area of the country, with winds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph) and 4-meter (13.1 ft) storm tides. The devastation of Belize City for the second time in thirty years prompted the relocation of the capital some 80 kilometers (50 mi) inland to the planned city of Belmopan. A hurricane that devastated Belize was Hurricane Greta, which caused more than US$25 million in damages along the southern coast in 1978.

There was a period of 20 years that Belize was considered as a hurricane-free zone by many until Hurricane Mitch (October 1998) caused quite a stir and gave rise to hurricane awareness and the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO). Two years later Tropical Storm Chantal and Hurricane Keith did much to put the country on the hurricane map.

In 2001, Hurricane Iris swept through the southern part of Belize causing damage that ranged in the hundreds of millions due largely to wiping away the banana industry, crippling the citrus and tourism in the area. Six years later, the fury of Category Five Dean landed on the Yucatán coast at Mahahual and Corozal in northern Belize, was not spared the brunt of reportedly Category 3 to 4 winds. Hurricane Dean did tens of millions in damages, especially to the infantile papaya industry and to a lesser extent to the endemic sugar cane industry.

The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Belize. Mountain Pine Ridge Uploaded on November 28, 2007 by tomeppy (cropped).jpg
The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Belize.

Geology

Belizean geology consists largely of varieties of limestone, with the notable exception of the Maya Mountains, a large uplifted block of intrusive Paleozoic granite and sediments running northeast to southwest across the south-central part of the country. Several major faults rive these highlands, but much of Belize lies outside the tectonically active zone that underlies most of Central America. During the Cretaceous Period, what is now the western part of the Maya Mountains stood above sea level, creating the oldest land surface in Central America, the Mountain Pine Ridge plateau.

The hilly regions surrounding the Maya Mountains are formed from Cretaceous limestone. These areas are characterized by a karst topography that is typified by numerous sinkholes, caverns, and underground streams. In contrast to the Mountain Pine Ridge, some of the soils in these regions are quite fertile and have been cultivated during at least the past 4,000 years.

Much of the northern half of Belize lies on the Yucatán Platform, a tectonically stable region. Although mostly level, this part of the country also has occasional areas of hilly, karst terrain, such as the Yalbac Hills along the western border with Guatemala and the Manatee Hills between Belize City and Dangriga. Alluvial deposits of varying fertility cover the relatively flat landscapes of the coastal plains.

Environmental issues

Environmental degradation issues in Belize include deforestation, water pollution from sewage, industrial effluents, agricultural runoff, and solid waste disposal.

Belize is party to the Basel Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar Convention, CITES, Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, Montreal Protocol, MARPOL 73/78, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Natural resources

Although a number of economically important minerals exist in Belize, none has been found in quantities large enough to warrant their mining. Those minerals include dolomite, barite (source of barium), bauxite (source of aluminum), cassiterite (source of tin), and gold. In 1990 limestone, used in road building, was the only mineral resource being exploited for either domestic or export use.

The similarity of Belizean geology to that of oil-producing areas of Mexico and Guatemala prompted oil companies, principally from the United States, to explore for petroleum at both offshore and on-land sites in the early 1980s. Initial results were promising, but the pace of exploration slowed later in the decade, and production operations never commenced. As a result, Belize remains almost totally dependent on imported petroleum for its energy needs.

Belize has considerable potential for hydroelectric and other renewable energy resources, such as solar and biomass. In the mid-1980s a Belizean businessman proposed the construction of a wood-burning power station for the production of electricity, but the idea foundered in the wake of ecological concerns and economic constraints. In late 2005, a company named Belize Natural Energy found oil in commercial quantities in the Spanish Lookout area of Belize.

Extreme points

See also

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Sarstoon River river in Guatemala and Belize

The Sarstoon River is a river in the Toledo District of Belize. It forms the country's southern boundary with Guatemala.

Sibun River river in Belize

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Monkey River river in Belize

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Petén-Veracruz moist forests

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Belizean–Guatemalan territorial dispute territorial dispute

The Belizean–Guatemalan territorial dispute is an unresolved binational territorial dispute between the states of Belize and Guatemala, neighbours in Central America. The territory of Belize has been claimed in whole or in part by Guatemala since 1821.

The History of Belize dates back thousands of years. The Maya civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC to 1200 BC and flourished until about 1000 AD. Several Maya ruin sites, including Cahal Pech, Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich reflect the advanced civilization and much denser population of that period. The first recorded European settlement was established by shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English settlements were established. This period also was marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, sporadic attacks by natives, and neighboring Spanish settlements.

Index of Belize-related articles Wikimedia list article

The following is an alphabetical list of topics related to the nation of Belize.

Hispanic Belizean

A Hispanic Belizean or Belizean Mestizo is a Belizean of Hispanic and mestizo origin. Currently, they comprise around 52.9% of Belize's population.

Belizean Spanish is the dialect of Spanish spoken in Belize. It is similar to Caribbean Spanish, Andalusian Spanish, and Canarian Spanish. While English is the only official language of Belize, Spanish is the common language of majority (62.8%), wherein 174,000 speak some variety of Spanish as a native language. Belizean Spanish is spoken by Belizean-born mestizos and Belizean-born citizens of pure Spanish blood. Belizeans of Guatemalan, Honduran, Mexican, Nicaraguan, and Salvadoran descent may speak different dialects of Spanish, but since they all grow up in Belize, they all adopt the local accent.

Sarstoon Island Belizean island in the Sarstoon River

Sarstoon Island is an island at the southernmost point of Belize located near the mouth of the Sarstoon River. The Sarstoon River is located at the south of Sarstoon Island and is the southern part of the Belize–Guatemala border. Sarstoon Island is part of the Toledo District of Belize, which is one of 6 districts of the country. The island is mostly mangrove swampland and is uninhabited. It covers approximately 0.68 square kilometres (0.26 sq mi).

2016 Belize-Guatemala border standoff

The 2016 Belize–Guatemala border standoff began when Belizean soldiers fatally shot a 13-year-old Guatemalan along the Sarstoon River, which marks Belize's southern border with Guatemala.

References