Location: Almost at the center of the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica lies 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Cuba and 160 kilometers (100 miles) west of Haiti, the two nearest countries. The closest point to Jamaica in South America is Cartagena in Colombia, a distance of 710 kilometers (445 miles) almost due south. The latitude and longitude of the capital, Kingston, are about 18 degrees N and 78 degrees W.
Area: Jamaica is the largest of the English Speaking West Indian islands. It has an area of 11,424 square kilometers (4,411 square miles), more than twice the area of Trinidad, which is next in size, and measures 243 kilometers (146 miles) from east to west. Its greatest width is 80 kilometers (51 miles), from St. Ann 's Bay to Portland Point. The distance from Kingston to the nearest point on the north coast, Annotto Bay, is 36 kilometers (22 miles).
Area-comparative: Jamaica is smaller than all U.S. states, including the smallest, Rhode Island.
Climate: Jamaica has a maritime tropical climate, with average daily temperature varying according to elevation from a high of 86 °F at sea level to a low of 63 °F in the mountains. The average annual rainfall ranges from 300 inches on the eastern slopes of the Blue Mountains to 230 inches in some parts of the south coast. During the cooler months, December to March, the island sometimes experiences northerners: chill winds and high seas associated with a cold front to the North. July to September are the warmest months, May and October are traditionally the rainy months.
Terrain: Jamaica has considerable variation in landscape from the coral sands and ironshore cliffs of the shoreline, through coastal wetlands, plains and highlands to the misty peaks of the Blue Mountains. The highest point on the island is Blue Mountain peak, at 7,402ft.
Natural Resources: Mineral deposits in Jamaica include gypsum, lead, and salt. The bauxite deposits, in the central section of the island, are among the richest in the world. Rich soils are found on the coastal plains. Natural Hazards: Jamaica is vulnerable to hurricanes July-October. Due to poor infrastructure and planning, heavy rains often devastate poorly built roads, homes, etc.
Flora and Fauna: Jamaica has a high degree of biodiversity. Three thousand species of plants grow on the island, and 27 percent of them are found nowhere else on Earth. More than 200 species of flowering plants have been classified. Among indigenous trees are cedar, mahoe, mahogany, logwood, rosewood, ebony, palmetto palm, coconut palm, and pimento (allspice). Introduced varieties, such as the mango, breadfruit, banana, and plantain, also flourish on the island and are widely cultivated. The Jamaican animal life, as that of the West Indies generally, includes highly diversified bird life. Parrots, hummingbirds, cuckoos, and green toadies are especially abundant. No large indigenous quadrupeds or venomous reptiles exist.
Environmental Issues: Jamaica theoretically has a protected area system composed of forest reserves, nature protection areas, and parks. However, until recently the system was not centrally managed and suffered from inadequate budget, staff, management, and enforcement. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the country worked with nongovernmental and foreign aid organizations to consolidate potential protected areas into functional national parks with efficient administration.
The absence of a clear environmental policy combined with a steadily growing population and the largely irresponsible growth of the conventional tourism sector has brought about an inevitable ecological deterioration of the island. Soil degradation and water shortages are common. Coastal waters are polluted by industrial and hotel waste, sewage, and oil spills. Automobile traffic in Kingston causes significant air pollution. Safe drinking water is generally available, although access to sanitation is still low. Jamaica's biodiversity has suffered with environmental deterioration. Natural habitats are threatened by rapid deforestation. Government policy encourages conversion of "idle " land into fields and pasture. Once completely forested, about 30 percent of Jamaica 's surface was forested in 2000.
The deforestation rate at 1.5 percent per year during 1990-2000 was high, pushing the few remaining stands of trees into small mountain enclaves. Despite a thriving tourist industry and potential for ecotourism, visits to scenic protected sites such as forest recreation areas were rare through the early 1990s. Jamaica is party to several regional agreements on conservation of marine resources and combating oil pollution in the Caribbean Sea. It ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1983.