Rivers and Drainage in the Caribbean Islands


Source: The Library Of Congress Country Studies


A limestone plateau covers two-thirds of Jamaica, so that karst formations dominate the island. Karst is formed by the erosion of the limestone in solution. Sinkholes, caves and caverns, disappearing streams, hummocky hills, and terra rosa (residual red) soils in the valleys are distinguishing features of a karst landscape; all these are present in Jamaica. To the west of the mountains is the rugged terrain of the Cockpit Country, one of the world's most dramatic examples of karst topography.

The Cockpit Country is pockmarked with steep-sided hollows as much as fifteen meters deep and separated by conical hills and ridges. This area of the country was once known as the "Land of Look Behind," because Spanish horsemen venturing into this region of hostile runaway slaves were said to have ridden two to a mount, one rider facing to the rear to keep a precautionary watch. Where the ridges between sinkholes in the plateau area have dissolved, flat-bottomed basins or valleys have been formed that are filled with terra rosa soils, some of the most productive on the island. The largest basin is the Vale of Clarendon, eighty kilometers long and thirty-two kilometers wide. Queen of Spains Valley, Nassau Valley, and Cave Valley were formed by the same process.

There are numerous rivers and streams on the island of Trinidad; the most significant are the Ortoire River, fifty kilometers long, which extends eastward into the Atlantic, and the forty-kilometer-long Caroni River, reaching westward into the Gulf of Paria.

Dominica is water-rich with swift-flowing highland streams, which cascade into deep gorges and form natural pools and crater lakes. The streams are not navigable, but many are sources of hydroelectric power. Trafalgar Falls, located near the national park, is one of the most spectacular sites on the island. The principal rivers flowing westward into the Caribbean are the Layou and the Roseau, and the major one emptying eastward into the Atlantic is the Toulaman. The largest crater lake, called Boeri, is located in the national park.

On Barbados most of the small streams are in Scotland District. The rest of the island has few surface streams; nevertheless, rainwater saturates the soil to produce underground channels such as the famous Coles Cave.

On the Leeward Islands there are few streams, as rainfall is slight.


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