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Bahamas

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The Bahamas, a nation made up of a chain of islands south and east of Florida. The Commonwealth of the Bahamas, as the country is officially known, is an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

The location, climate, and geography of the Bahamas combine to make the islands a popular tourist destination. The country’s southerly latitude and proximity to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream produce a pleasant climate year-round. A wealth of beautiful beaches facing blue-green waters adds to the idyllic picture. The islands entice thousands of visitors from the United States and more distant countries each year.

The first place Christopher Columbus landed when he came to the New World in 1492 was an island of the Bahamas. Columbus claimed the island for Spain and named it San Salvador. Historians are not sure which island Columbus landed on, but they think it may have been present-day San Salvador (formerly Watling Island) or Samana Cay.

People

The population of The Bahamas (2008 estimate) is 307,451. The number of tourists that visit the Bahamas each year is more than four times greater than the population of the islands. Only a few dozen of the islands are inhabited. More than half of Bahamians live on New Providence. The country’s capital, Nassau (population, 2003, 222,000), is on New Providence. The only other large town is Freeport (26,574), on Grand Bahama.

The majority of the population is descended from African slaves and settlers from Britain, Bermuda, and the United States. About 85 percent of the population is black. There are no surviving descendants of the original Native American inhabitants who lived on the island when Columbus landed. Most of the population is Protestant, but Catholics make up about a fifth of the population. English is the official language. The majority of the population speaks Bahamas Creole English, an English-based Creole that is also spoken in some parts of the United States.

Economy

Possessing a pleasant subtropical climate and splendid beaches, the Bahamas are one of the most popular year-round resorts in the Western Hemisphere, visited in 2006 by 1.60 million tourists. Tourism plays a central role in the country’s economy and has helped make the Bahamas one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean region. Tourism has a downside, however. The huge numbers of visitors damage the island nation's environment. The islands' famous coral reefs, for example, are threatened by increased scuba diving and sport fishing. Merely brushing up against a bit of coral can kill it.

Because of favorable tax laws and secrecy for depositors, the Bahamas have also become an international banking center. Industrial activity is limited; it includes the transshipment and refining of petroleum and the production of steel pipe, pharmaceuticals, salt, rum, and shellfish. The unit of currency is the Bahamian dollar (1 Bahamian dollar equals U.S.$1; 2006).

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