French Guiana: Natural and Geographic Landscape

French Guiana: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Wed, 09/07/2022 - 17:27
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French Guiana, an overseas territorial collectivity of France, is located on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America. Almost the entire country is covered by rainforest, and its many large rivers and streams constitute the only natural means of penetration into the interior.

Geography of French Guiana

French Guiana (Guyane) is located on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America and is bordered by Suriname to the west and Brazil to the east and south. Its coastline with the Atlantic Ocean in the north extends approximately 378 km (235 mi).

Highly biodiverse, almost the entire country is covered by dense, largely unexplored, rainforest. Its many large rivers and streams, although their courses are broken by rapids, constitute the only natural means of penetration into the interior.

French Guiana is an overseas territorial collectivity of France and its capital is Cayenne. It is part of the region known as "The Guianas" which also includes Guyana and Suriname. With a land area of 83,534 sq km (32,253 sq mi), it is the smallest country or territory in mainland South America.

French Guiana is sometimes considered part of the Caribbean South America subregion, along with the other Caribbean Sea boundary nations of South America: Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, and Guyana.

Its population, most of whom live along the coast, is ethnically diverse. Guianese Creoles (people of primarily African heritage mixed with some French ancestry) are the largest ethnic group.

According to research estimates, indigenous peoples make up approximately 4% of Guiana’s population or more than 10,000 individuals.

Six indigenous communities survived colonization: the Kali'na Tileuyu, Lokono, and Pahikweneh who live on the coast near the urban centers as well as the Wayãpi, Teko, and Wayana people who live in isolated territories in the headwaters of the Oyapock and Maroni rivers.

Biodiversity

French Guiana has a high level of biodiversity of both flora and fauna. This is due to the presence of old-growth forests, which are biodiversity hotspots. The rainforests of French Guiana provide shelter for many species.

Approximately 5,500 plant species have been recorded, including more than 1,000 trees, 700 species of birds, 177 species of mammals, over 500 species of fish 45% of which are endemic, and 109 species of amphibians. Wildlife includes pumas, monkeys, tapirs, caimans, ocelots, sloths, great anteaters, capybaras, and armadillos.

Climate

The climate of French Guiana is tropical and wet. It is subject to heavy rainfall between December and July. High temperatures predominate.

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

The Natural and Geographic Landscape of French Guiana

Geographic Regions

French Guiana consists of two main geographical regions:

  • a coastal strip in the north along the coast, where most of the population lives

  • a dense rainforest to the south that gradually rises to the Tumac-Humac mountains near the Brazilian border

Coastal Lowlands

The northern coastal strip is a small, low, swampy coastal area called the "Terres Basses" (lowlands), varying from 10 to 30 km (6 - 19 mi) in width.

Interior Highlands

The vast interior is a granite peneplain called the "Terres Hautes" (highlands), worn down by erosion into steps forming a series of low steep hills.

Almost the entire country is covered by dense, largely unexplored, rainforest, and its many large rivers and streams, although their courses are broken by rapids, constitute the only natural means of penetration into the interior.

The Tumuc Humac Mountains are a range that forms the border with Brazil. They are an eastern extension of the Acarai Mountains and constitute part of the northern watershed of the Amazon River basin.

Geographic map of French Guiana

Geographic map of French Guiana

Natural Features

The Barrage de Petit-Saut gravity dam is located about 36 km (22 mi) south of Sinnamary, along the Sinnamary River, forming an artificial lake and providing hydroelectricity.

Islands

Several small islands are located off the Atlantic coast:

  • Salvation Islands (Îles du Salut): this group of small islands approximately 11 km (7 mi) off the coast include Devil's Island, Royale Island, and Saint-Joseph Island

  • Constable Islands (Îles du Connétable): these two islands (Grand Connétable and Petit Connétable), located about 18 km (11 mi) offshore from the Approuague estuary, are part of the Île du Grand Connétable Nature Reserve

Rivers

The main rivers, flowing in a generally south-to-north direction, include:

  • Maroni or Marowijne River: forms the border between French Guiana and Suriname

  • Mana River: runs north from central French Guiana to the town of Mana, where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean

  • Sinnamary River: flows north from the center of the country and reaches the coast near the town of Sinnamary

  • Kourou River: discharges into the Atlantic Ocean near the town of Kourou, which is generally used as a pleasure port

  • Mahury River: an extended estuary southeast of Cayenne

  • Approuague River: runs north from the Tumuk Humak Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean

  • Oyapock River: forms most of the border with the Brazilian state of Amapá

Mountain Peaks

  • Mont Bellevue de l'Inini (851 m / 2,792 ft)

  • Mont Machalou (782 m / 2,566 ft)

  • Pic Coudreau (711 m / 2,333 ft)

  • Mont St Marcel (635 m / 2,083 ft)

  • Mont Favard (200 m / 656 ft)

  • Montagne du Mahury (156 m / 512 ft)

Relief map of French Guiana

Relief map of French Guiana

Natural Regions

French Guiana is home to many different ecosystems: tropical rainforests, coastal mangroves, savannahs, inselbergs (isolated hills), and many types of wetlands. It lies within three ecoregions.

Ecological Regions

The following is a list of terrestrial ecoregions in French Guiana, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

French Guiana is in the Neotropical realm. Ecoregions are classified by biome type - the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate.

Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests

Mangroves

  • Guianan mangroves

Vegetation map of French Guiana

Vegetation map of French Guiana

Administrative Divisions

French Guiana is divided into three arrondissements:

  • Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni

  • Saint-Georges

  • Cayeene

Each arrondissement is subdivided into a total of 22 cantons as follows:

Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni:

  1. Awala-Yalimapo
  2. Mana
  3. Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni
  4. Apatou
  5. Grand-Santi
  6. Papaïchton
  7. Saül
  8. Maripasoula

Saint-Georges:

  1. Camopi
  2. Saint-Georges
  3. Ouanary
  4. Régina

Cayenne:

  1. Roura
  2. Saint-Élie
  3. Iracoubo
  4. Sinnamary
  5. Kourou
  6. Macouria
  7. Montsinéry-Tonnegrande
  8. Matoury
  9. Cayenne
  10. Remire-Montjoly
French Guiana (Guyane) administrative map

French Guiana (Guyane) administrative map

Border Dispute

French Guiana and Suriname are involved in a territorial dispute regarding the southern portion of their border. Suriname claims approximately 13,000 sq km (5,000 sq mi) between the Litani and Maroni rivers in the southwest corner of French Guiana.