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Belize which was formerly known as British Honduras until 1981 is an 8,867 acre plot of land located in Central America. The territory covered by Belize is slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts (Gall 45). Mexico surrounds Belize to the north, Guatemala to the southwest and the Caribbean Sea to the east. The population of Belize conists of approximately 256,000 people. Rougly seventy-one percent of Belize's population resides in cities such as Belize City, San Ignacio, and Punta Gorda. The remaining population lives in rural areas (Krutzinna 66-67).
Belize's climate is tropical and humid throughout most of the year. The rainy season falls between the months of May and October. THe average temperature along the Belizean coast is 78.8°, while temperatures rise inland. The hurricane season is the most influential climatic element to Belize's environment and well being, which lasts from July to October. For example, the capital city of Belize was moved from coastal Belize City to Belmopan central Belize in 1971 because of the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 (Krutzinna 105).
Belmopan has been Belize's captial since 1971. It is seated in the center of Belize on the Belize River, half way between the coastal Belize City and the Belize- Guatemalan border town of San Ignacio. The capital has not become the bustling metropolis that Belize City continues to be, but it does provide a train station for travelers as well as cultural buildings for some light sight-seeing. Belmopan, Belize is geographically and politically important to Belize, however, it is still not the center of Belizean culture and economy (Krutzinna 105-106).
Forests and woodlands cover about ninety-two percent of Belize's terrain (Marshall 447). These forests and woodlands are home to seven hundered species of trees and approximately four thousand species of flowering plants. Among the seven hundred species of trees living in the forests and woodlands are mahogany, pine, cedar and rosewood. Belize exports much of its mahogany, pine and cedar woods, which directly affects the issue of deforestation it is currently facing from the abundance of trees that have been cut down in the past (Gall 49). Deforestation has become an important topic in Belize since many of its trees have been cut down for sale on the international market.
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Approximately four percent of the land in Belize is used for the cultivation of seasonal and permanent crops. Sugar cane crops are grown and then refined in northern Belize. The citrus fruit farms are found throughout Stann Creek Valley District, in the southeastern region of Belize. The popularity of raising these products has increased only recently; therefore the industry currectly remains in the infant stage (Gall 49).
Fishing and mining are also effective industries in Belize. Mining is done in northern Belize, near the Mexican border. Clay, limestone, marble and sand gravel are mined for use in domestic construction. Belize currently has 304 miles of paved roads, and is in the process of continuing the construction of an interstate highway. The mining that is accomplished in the north is important to the road and transportation construction in the entire country, because there are no railways in Belize. Fishing is an important staple on the coast because those who do not have a hand in the econoy of tourism find profit in the abundance of fish that the Caribbean Sea renders (Gall 49).
The indegenous faunas currently inhabiting Belize include the armadillo, opossum, deer, monkeys, iguana and snakes (Gall 45). The indigenous species that are endangered in much of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in southern Belize include the jaguar, puma, jaguaramundi, margay, ocelot, tapir, and the three-toed sloth. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is among the twenty-one percent of the protected territory in Blieze. Belize is blessed with migratory birds yearly. These wintering birds include wood storks, orioles, herons, egrets, and white ibis. There are an abundance of endangered species living off the coast of Belize as well. These faunas include the green sea turtle, loggerhead, turtle and the hawksbill turtle (Krutzinna 67).
Belize is divided into two regions, north and south, by topography and culture. The north of Belize has incorporated a more Mexican feel to its culture, because of Mexico's proximity. Also, a vast majority of the northerners speak Spanish, rather than the official language of English. The area of northern Belize is a low-lying area of pine savannas, swamps, jungles, and coastal lagoons. The north is a slow, gradual slope, starting at the coast, of forests. Many of the remaining Maya ruins are in the inland north in Lamanai and Xunantunich (Krutzinna 92).
The southern region of Belize includes broad expanses of untouched rainforest, jungle, miles of beach and mangrove. This area is much steeper and more tropical, where the Maya Mountains protrude from the limestone plain along the Guatemalan border. Its highest peak, Victoria Peak, reaches 3,681 feet in the Cockscomb Range (Gall 45). The southern atmosphere is more Garífuna (Carib) in nature, where Garífuna bands play and the wildlife outnumber the people (Krutzinna 117). English, the official language of Belize, is more frequently spoken in the south.
The coast of Belize is a region in itself. The coast is made up of mangrove, swamp, and lagoons. The constant erosion of limestone has created a system of various cave formations and tunnels on the coast of Belize (Krutzinna 115). Offshore, the Barrier Reef protects the coast from further erosion of the Caribbean waves crashing on Belize's beaches (Gall 45). This Barrier Reef is the second largest reef in the world. The reef also creates hundreds of tiny islands, called Cayes that are pieces of land pushed above sea level (Krutzinna 80).
Geography has shaped and molded Belize's land and its people. The beauty of Belize has attracted a lucrative tourist economy, but the hurricanes have destroyed the homes and villages of te Belizean people. The tropical climate makes Belize a wonderful area to grow many types of fruits and vegetables for subsistence and export, and various species of birds, reptiles, fish and animals claim Belize for their own. Geography has decided where farmers should cultivate their crops, where certain species of animal should live and what the temperature should be in relation the elevation and location of an area. The geography of Belize affects everything from the day to day lives of its inhabitants to the economy of the entire country.
Gall, Timothy, Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, 11th ed., vol. 3 (New York: Gale, 2004) 45-49.
Let's Go Publications. A Let's Go Travel Guide Central America, edited by Benjamin Krutzinna. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003. 66-106.
Marshall, Cavandish, Encyclopedia of World Geography, vol. 4 (New York: Andromeda Oxford Ltd, 1994) 447.