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Old 04-28-2010, 11:33 AM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Why are the Caribbean islands considered part of North America?

I was playing a game on Sporcle and one of the questions was "what's the smallest country in South America?" The answer they wanted was Suriname.

But one of the countries I had tried first was Trinidad and Tobogo. But Trinidad and Tobogo is apparently considered part of North America not South America.

That seems silly to me. Trinidad and Tobogo are less than ten miles away from mainland South America. It's over a thousand miles from the closest part of mainland North America (and ironically you'd have to cross South America to travel those thousand miles).

It's the same thing with other countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines - all are closer to mainland South America than mainland North America.

So why aren't they considered South American islands rather than North American?
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  #2  
Old 04-28-2010, 12:51 PM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_America#Geography

Basically, because Panama has a significant break (the Darien Watershed). The distance to the mainland in either case is not really the issue. This coincides with the South American plate, which doesn't sit below the Caribbean. Now, why the Caribbean plate itself is included with North America? No idea, and if you asked different people they might diasagree. It could just be an arbitrary convention of geologists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plates_tect2_en.svg
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Old 04-28-2010, 02:10 PM
Peremensoe Peremensoe is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wikipedia
The islands of Aruba, Barbados, Trinidad, and Tobago sit on the northerly South American continental shelf.
...
Geopolitically, the island states and overseas territories of the Caribbean are generally grouped as a part or subregion of North America.
The first sentence certainly doesn't explain the second from where I sit.
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Old 04-28-2010, 02:28 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
So why aren't they considered South American islands rather than North American?
It's completely arbitrary. In this case, a geopolitical definition of "continent" is being used. Because most of the Caribbean islands are closer to North America, all of them are grouped with it for convenience in terms of geopolitical regions.

Of course, this has nothing to do with the geological, topographic, or biogeographic definitions of the two continents. Trinidad, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are all on the South American continental shelf and geologically part of the continent (as are Margarita and other islands that are politically part of South America). Most of the Caribbean islands, including Tobago, are oceanic and not part of any continental land mass.

Last edited by Colibri; 04-28-2010 at 02:30 PM..
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Old 04-28-2010, 02:53 PM
Markxxx Markxxx is offline
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Mostly for historical reasons. The islands were colonies a lot longer than the countries of North or South America.

This also explains why the Guianas and Belize are often associated with Caribbean nations even though they are mainland. Why? Because they were colonies until recent times
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Old 04-28-2010, 07:36 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Mostly for historical reasons. The islands were colonies a lot longer than the countries of North or South America.

This also explains why the Guianas and Belize are often associated with Caribbean nations even though they are mainland. Why? Because they were colonies until recent times
I'm not sure I follow you. Why would their status as colonies affect whether they were considered as part of North or South America?
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Old 04-29-2010, 02:29 PM
JRDelirious JRDelirious is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
I'm not sure I follow you. Why would their status as colonies affect whether they were considered as part of North or South America?
The longer status as colonies of the formerly Brit/French/Dutch territories means they are socioculturally looked upon as part of the "West Indies", as opposed to the rest of South Am which socioculturally is part of "Latin America". Now, in the case of Guyana or Suriname there's the patently indisputable fact of being on the actual SA continent. But when it comes to the islands, the Antilles chain gets lumped in whole as part of the Central American/Caribbean region which conventional geography has been lumping together with North America.

Conventional wisdom among geographers insists on keeping the entire arc of the Antilles from Cuba to Aruba as one "unit", even though they could be at least two and maybe three distinct groupings, and arbitrarily it was decided to class it with North America according to the cultural biases of geographers of an older time.

As to how come, there are multiple components -- the formerly Spanish islands and the Central American countries (save Panama) were administratively attached to Mexico in colonial times, and Mexico is North American, and that may have stuck. In general tems, save for the early independence-wars period (lifetime of Bolivar, essentially), the Spanish-speaking islands have NOT looked southward for their social, political and economic cues, so they do not identify with South America. In the case of the English-speakers, the bulk of the Anglophone power and presence in the Americas was in the North so they probably associated more in that direction. The Dutch and French lost their North American power base by the mid-1700s, but the Dutch and French islands then remained more oriented in the direction of the Mother Country and therefore "Northward"-looking.

Last edited by JRDelirious; 04-29-2010 at 02:30 PM..
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Old 04-29-2010, 04:11 PM
BrotherCadfael BrotherCadfael is offline
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Originally Posted by smiling bandit View Post
It could just be an arbitrary convention of geologists.
At which they all got quite drunk after the plenary.
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Old 04-29-2010, 04:53 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Note that for the Sporcle question, it's not necessary that they be considered part of North America, just that they not be considered part of South America. It's not unreasonable to consider islands to not be part of any continent at all.
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:05 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Note that for the Sporcle question, it's not necessary that they be considered part of North America, just that they not be considered part of South America. It's not unreasonable to consider islands to not be part of any continent at all.
But they did count other island countries as the correct answer for other continents. The Seychelles, for example, was considered the smallest country in Africa.
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Old 04-29-2010, 10:32 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
But they did count other island countries as the correct answer for other continents. The Seychelles, for example, was considered the smallest country in Africa.
They are clearly using the geopolitical definition of a "continent." This has other anomalies, such as the island of New Guinea being half in Asia (Indonesia) and half in the "continent"/region of Oceania or Australasia (Papua New Guinea).

Last edited by Colibri; 04-29-2010 at 10:32 PM..
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Old 04-29-2010, 10:47 PM
Shagnasty Shagnasty is offline
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Originally Posted by smiling bandit View Post
True. A group of astronomers got liquored up and killed Pluto off (the planet, not the Mickey Mouse dog) in the same way a few years ago. There are only eight now and I bet the other planets are watching their backs. Geeks can be as petty, violent and political as anyone else.

Last edited by Shagnasty; 04-29-2010 at 10:49 PM..
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Old 04-30-2010, 12:53 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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True. A group of astronomers got liquored up and killed Pluto off (the planet, not the Mickey Mouse dog) in the same way a few years ago. There are only eight now and I bet the other planets are watching their backs. Geeks can be as petty, violent and political as anyone else.
Actually, they just gave it the proper respect it deserved. As a planet, it's insignificant, ill-behaved, and all-around screwball, but it's one of the grandest of the Kuiper Belt objects.
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