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Caribbean Sea

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CARIBBE'AN SEA. A great arm of the Atlantic Ocean, 750,000 square miles in extent and inclosed by the eastern coast of Central America, the northern coast of South America, and the long sweeping cres cent of the West Indies—such is the Caribbean Sea, so named from the Carib Indians who once inhabited its islands and shores. Here is the crossroads of the western world, for through it passes the trade of the Panama Canal and a great part of our commerce with Central and South America. The greatest width of the Caribbean, from Porto Rico to Panama, is more than 700 miles; and its length, from Yucatan on the west to Trinidad on the east, is 1,700 miles.

In this "American Mediterranean," the interests and authority of the United States are dominant.

For more than a century the course of events has been forcing that country to recognize its responsi bilities in keeping order in the Caribbean lands and in assisting their peoples to advance in the paths of sanitation and orderly progress. This commanding position of the United States began with the formula tion of the Monroe Doctrine; it was completed through the liberation of Cuba, the acquisition of Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the assumption of a protec torate over Haiti, and by digging the Panama Canal.

Once the Caribbean was the favorite haunt of buccaneers and pirates, who especially infested the waters north of Colombia and Venezuela, the " Span ish Main" of the old days. Now, aside from the Panama traffic, it is traversed chiefly by fleets of leisurely ships that convey the sugar, coffee, cacao, and bananas of the tropics to the United States, and take back manufactures in exchange. The sea is comparatively free from rocks and reefs, except near the islands, but frequent hurricanes take a terrible toll of shipping. These storms are caused by the superheating of the warm waters of the equatorial current, which sweep across the Atlantic from Africa and remain pent up in the Caribbean, or slowly make their way through the narrow Yucatan Channel-120 miles wide—into the Gulf of Mexico, and thence through the Florida Strait and northward as the Gulf Stream. As the hot air above these waters rises, the cold northern and eastern trade winds rush in with terrific force, often laying low houses and plantations on the islands and sending staunch ships to the ocean bottom.

The bed of the Caribbean Sea is a vast submarine mountain system, with deep valleys and lofty peaks.

The easternmost chain rises above the surface of the waters to form the West Indies archipelago. No where else, scientists say, can there be found such contrasts of ocean depth within such short distances.

Long ridges approach the surface in places and then fall away on both sides in submarine precipices three miles deep. In these abysses strange creatures are often brought up by dredging, quite unlike those found anywhere else. Some of them closely resemble fossil forms supposed to have been extinct for hundreds of thousands of years.