Virgin Islands, group of about 100 small islands, West Indies, E of Puerto Rico. The islands are divided politically between the United States and Great Britain. Although constituting the westernmost part of the Lesser Antilles, the Virgin Islands form a geological unit with Puerto Rico and the Greater Antilles; they are of volcanic origin overlaid with limestone. The islands are subject to sometimes severe hurricanes between August and October—in 2017 St. Thomas and especially St. John as well as the British Virgin Islands suffered significant damage from Hurricane Irma, as did St. Croix from Hurricane Maria—and suffer from light earthquakes. The water supply is almost completely dependent on rainfall and is preserved in cisterns; some water also comes from desalinization plants. The tropical climate, with its cooling northeast trade winds, and the picturesque quality of the islands, enhanced by their Old World architecture, have encouraged a large tourist trade. The population is predominantly of African descent and the main religion is Protestantism. English and some Spanish and Creole are spoken. The islands were first visited by Europeans when Columbus landed on St. Croix in 1493.
Sections in this article:
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Caribbean Political Geography