Information about the Bahamas
Area, Geography, and Climate
The Islands of The Bahamas lie between 20 and 27°N latitude and 72 and 79°W longitude. Separated from the North American Continent by the Florida Channel and cooled in the summer by the northeast trade winds, The Bahamas enjoys a moderate climate. During the summer, temperatures rarely rise above 90°F, while the lowest winter temperatures vary between 40 and 50°F. Rainfall ranges between 40-60 inches a year. The Bahamas extends over 100,000 square miles of sea, with slightly less than half lying in the Tropics. The Tropic of Cancer crosses the lower part of Long Island. Contrary to popular belief, The Bahamas is not in the Caribbean, but is in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Bahamas stretch over a distance of some 760 miles from northwest to southeast and includes 30 inhabited islands, 661 cays, and about 2,387 exposed reefs. The total land area is approximately 5,380 square miles, about the size of Wales or two-thirds the size of Massachusetts. The largest island is Andros, with an area of 2,300 square miles and the smallest inhabited island is Spanish Wells, with an area of one-half mile. The highest point is 206-foot high Como Hill on Cat Island. Some of the most beautiful beaches and lagoons in the world are located in The Bahamas.
Over 50 varieties of trees can be found here, including such exotic species as the African tulip, the casuarina, the cork tree, several varieties of palm trees, and about 40 varieties of fruit trees. In addition, large varieties of shrubs, climbers, vines, vegetables, and herbs are found here. There are no significant seasonal changes requiring winter clothing or central heating in the Bahamas. The rainy season is from May to October with an average in Nassau of six inches per month. From November through April, average rainfall is two inches per month. The hurricane season extends from June through November, the greatest risk being in August, September, and October.
In the winter, temperatures rarely fall below 60°F, and usually reach 77°F by mid-afternoon. During the summer, temperatures fluctuate between 85-90°F in the daytime and 75°F or less in the evening. Although humidity can reach about 80% (relative humidity for September is 82%), prevailing easterly winds lessen personal discomfort. Temperatures vary from a low of 76.7°F in January to a high of 89.1°F in August. Humidity causes mildew on leather and textile products, but homes equipped with central air-conditioning or dehumidifiers neutralize the harmful effects.
Rainfall often occurs in the form of fairly intense showers, frequently accompanied by strong, gusty winds. These storms are usually short and are followed by clear skies. Weather conditions can change rapidly. Statistically, a hurricane can be expected to occur in some part of The Bahamas every nine years. The last hurricane (Floyd) struck in September 1999. New Providence and Grand Bahama Islands experienced minimal damage considering the magnitude of the storm, which reached speeds of up to 100 mph in Nassau. Coastal areas were flooded and power was cut off but was restored within a week. The Embassy hurricane plan calls for early evacuation of government employees to emergency shelters located on high ground in the central and eastern portions of New Providence. Official communications, as well as ready access to Miami TV and radio stations, provide more than ample early warning of severe weather threats.
The preliminary statistics from the 2000 Census of Population and Housing placed the total resident population of the Bahamas at 304,913. The statistics show that New Providence (where Nassau is located) has a population of 212,432, accounting for 69.66% of the population and representing a 23.83% increase in population compared to the 1990 census. Grand Bahama, with the second largest population, has 46,954 persons representing 15.40% of the population, an increase of 14.42% in population compared to the 1990 census. Abaco follows with a population of 13,174 or 4.32% of the population, Andros with 7,815, and Eleuthera with 8,114 accounting for 2.56% and 2.66%, respectively. Exuma had 3,575 persons and 1.17% of the total population, while Long Island with 2,945 persons had less than 1% of the population.
The Lucayan Indians, a branch of the Arawaks, discovered the islands in the ninth century AD. Some 600 years later, on October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the New World on San Salvador Island. Some studies by historians have disputed the San Salvador theory however, and suggest that the landfall may have occurred at Samana Cay instead. Spanish adventurers followed Columbus to The Bahamas and soon shipped the remaining Lucayan population as slaves to the mines in Cuba and Santo Domingo, where the race eventually became extinct.
The islands were the setting for several attempts at establishing colonies of religious refugees, including the Eleutheran Adventurers. Although they all ultimately failed, many family names in The Bahamas derive from these seventeenth century English settlers.
Most Bahamians are of mixed African and European descent. Of the European portion of the population, 90% are descendants of early British and American settlers, most notably loyalists from New York, Virginia, and the Carolinas. The Bahamas also has a considerable Greek community. Most are second and third generation Bahamians, whose descendents came to the islands as sponge fishermen. English is universally spoken in the Bahamas.
The Bahamas is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy. As a fully independent member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the nominal Head of State is Queen Elizabeth II, represented in The Bahamas by an appointed Governor General. The Head of Government is the Prime Minister. The 1973 Bahamian Constitution was enacted by a Parliament composed of the Senate and the House of Assembly.
The House of Assembly (Lower House) consists of 40 members, elected by the constituency every 5 years on the basis of universal adult suffrage. The Senate (Upper House) consists of 16 members, nine of whom are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, four on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and three on the advice of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. The Parliament performs all major legislative functions. The leader of the majority party serves as Prime Minister. The Cabinet, which answers to the House of Assembly, consists of the Prime Minister, a Deputy Prime Minister, an Attorney General, and other Ministers of executive departments.
The judiciary consists of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, and various Magistrates' Courts, with the right to appeal to Her Majesty's Privy Council in the United Kingdom. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
In January 1993, the government instituted a form of local government for the Family Islands (Bahamian islands beyond New Providence) by appointing individuals to local licensing boards. Commissioners, who formerly served as administrators for the Family Islands, now serve as secretaries to these boards in addition to their duties as local magistrates.