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Land and Resources
The Dominican Republic is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean; on the east by the Mona Passage, which separates it from Puerto Rico; on the south by the Caribbean Sea; and on the west by Haiti. It has an area of 48,400 sq km (18,700 sq mi). Its greatest length from east to west is about 380 km (about 235 mi) and its maximum width, in the west, is about 265 km (about 165 mi).
The Dominican Republic is a fertile, well-watered, mountainous country. About 80 percent of the country is covered with a series of massive mountain ranges. They run roughly parallel and cross the country from the northwest to the southeast. The highest mountains are known as the Cordillera Central or Cibao Mountains. In the central part of these mountains Pico Duarte rises to 3,098 m (10,164 ft). It is the highest peak in the country and in the West Indies. Tucked among these mountains are lightly populated valleys.
The Cibao Valley lies between the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera Septentrional, a narrow and lower range to the north. The Cordillera Septentrional separates the Cibao Valley from coastal plains along the Atlantic Ocean. The valley is among the most fertile and best-watered areas of the country. The coastal plain in the southeast is another fertile region. Many of the Dominican Republic’s people live in the Cibao Valley or on the coastal plains.
At the eastern end of the island is a low plain, cut off from the Cibao Valley by heavily forested limestone ridges. This plain is dominated by the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo. Sugarcane grows on plantations on the fertile limestone soils of the plain. Nearly a third of the island’s people live east of Santo Domingo.
The coastline of the Dominican Republic, 1,288 km (800 mi) in length, is irregular and indented by many bays forming natural harbors, notably Ocoa Bay in the south and the Samana Bay in the northeast. A number of adjacent islands, among them Beata and Saona, are possessions of the Dominican Republic.
Rivers and Lakes
The Cibao Valley is drained to the northwest by the Yaque del Norte river and to the east by the Yuna and Camu rivers. The Yaque del Norte is about 200 km (125 mi) long and is the longest river in the country. The southwestern part of the Cordillera Central is drained by the Yaque del Sur river.
The principal lake is the large saltwater Lago Enriquillo, situated in the southwestern part of the country. It extends 43 km (27 mi) in length and lies 44 m (144 ft) below sea level.
The Dominican Republic has a semitropical climate, tempered by the prevailing easterly winds. Temperatures of more than 23°C (more than 74°F) are registered in the lowlands throughout the year. During the summer months temperatures range between 27° and 35°C (80° and 95°F) in these regions. The highlands are considerably cooler.
Throughout the country, winter is the driest period and summer the wettest. Most rain falls at the end of summer, coinciding with the hurricane season. Annual precipitation averages about 1,500 mm (about 60 in), but considerably more moisture is received by the mountainous areas of the north. Mountain slopes exposed to prevailing northeast winds receive more than 2,000 mm (80 in) of annual rainfall, and tropical rain forests flourish on these slopes. Drier climates occur on the south coast. Tropical hurricanes occasionally strike the country and can cause enormous damage.
The main resources of the Dominican Republic are agricultural. The fertile soil in the valleys is well-suited to farming. Many of the mountain slopes are covered with forests, although the government restricts logging in an effort to halt deforestation. The country also has valuable deposits of nickel, gold, and silver.
Plants and Animals
The vegetation of the Dominican Republic, like that of the other islands of the West Indies, is extremely varied and luxuriant. Among the species of indigenous trees are mahogany, rosewood, satinwood, cypress, pine, oak, and cacao. Many species of useful plants and fruits are common, including rice, tobacco, cotton, sugarcane, yam, banana, pineapple, mango, fig, grape, and breadfruit.
The most noteworthy mammal among the indigenous animals is the agouti, a rodent. Wild dogs, hogs, and cattle are abundant, as are numerous reptiles, notably snakes, lizards, and caimans. Humpback whales congregate off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic during the winter months, which is their breeding season. Manatees and sea turtles also live in Dominican waters. Common birds include blue herons, glossy ibis, flamingos, and brown pelicans.
Urban dwellers of the Dominican Republic enjoy good access to safe water, but rural communities do not. While current water use is low relative to available resources, water shortages do occur.
Although deforestation was once a serious problem in the Dominican Republic, by the beginning of the 21st century, the annual rate of deforestation had decreased significantly. In 2007, 67 percent of the land area was officially protected in some way, but the country lacks the institutional and legal frameworks necessary for effective environmental management. The government has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to climate change, desertification, endangered species, marine dumping, marine life conservation, and ozone layer protection.
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