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Bermuda, self-governing British overseas territory in the western North Atlantic Ocean. It is an archipelago of 7 main islands and about 170 additional (named) islets and rocks, situated about 650 miles (1,050 km) east of Cape Hatteras (North Carolina, U.S.). Bermuda is neither geologically nor spatially associated with the West Indies, which lie more than 800 miles (1,300 km) to the south and southwest.
The archipelago is about 24 miles (40 km) long and averages less than 1 mile (1.6 km) in width. The main islands are clustered together in the shape of a fishhook and are connected by bridges. The largest island is Main Island, 14 miles (22.5 km) long and 1 mile wide. The Peak, at 259 feet (79 metres) on Main Island, is the highest point. The capital is Hamilton.
The coral islands of Bermuda are composed of a layer 200 feet (60 metres) thick of marine limestone that caps an extinct and submerged volcanic mountain range rising more than 14,000 feet (4,300 metres) above the ocean floor. The limestone surface is overlain by a shallow layer of fertile soil. The islands are fringed by coral reefs and have no lakes or rivers, but the soil is highly porous, and standing water is not a problem.
The climate is mild, humid, and equable. August is the warmest month, with an average daytime high of 86 °F (30 °C), and February is the coldest month, with an average nighttime low of 57 °F (14 °C). Mean annual precipitation is about 57 inches (1,450 mm). Occasional dry spells can be critical, as the supply of drinking water depends almost entirely on rainfall. (There also are a number of wells and seawater distillation plants). The vegetation is subtropical and includes flowering shrubs such as bougainvillea, Easter lilies, oleander, hibiscus, and poinsettia. Palm, pine, casuarina, and mangrove trees are found on most of the islands. A number of migratory birds visit the islands annually; other wildlife is limited to lizards and frogs.
About three-fifths of the population is of full or mixed African ancestry, including immigrants from the West Indies or their descendants, Cape Verdeans, and descendants of slaves brought from other parts of the New World or Africa before Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807. Whites (people of European ancestry) constitute another one-third of the population and include those of British and American descent as well as descendants of Portuguese labourers from Madeira and the Azores who have immigrated to Bermuda since the mid-19th century.
In 1511 an island named “Bermudas” was depicted on a map in Spain. The Spanish navigator Fernandez de Oviedo sailed close to the islands in 1515 and attributed their discovery to his countryman Juan Bermadez, possibly as early as 1503.
In 1609 about 150 English travelers aboard the Virginia Company ship Sea Venture, en route to the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, were blown off course by a hurricane and shipwrecked at Bermuda, which they named the Somers Isles for their leader, Sir George Somers. News of those events inspired Shakespeare’s writing of The Tempest (1611–12); in the play Ariel makes reference to “the still-vex’d Bermoothes.” Most of the voyagers did reach Jamestown the following year on two new ships built locally, but the shipwreck marked the beginning of Bermuda’s permanent settlement. Bermuda was included (1612) in the third charter of the Virginia Company, and 60 English settlers were sent to colonize the islands, joining three who had remained from the Sea Venture party.
The PLP won the 1998 elections, and its leader, Jennifer Smith, became Bermuda’s first PLP premier; the party remained in power for the next 14 years. In the 2012 elections the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA)—formed the previous year through the merger of the UBP and another opposition party, the Bermuda Democratic Alliance—won a decisive majority. Its leader, Craig Cannonier, took office as premier. Cannonier resigned abruptly in May 2014 in the wake of a scandal involving financial contributions by U.S. businessmen to the OBA campaign in 2012. He was replaced by Deputy Premier Michael Dunkley. When voters went back to the polls for the July 2017 general election, they returned power to the PLP, which captured 24 seats in the House of Assembly while the OBA took the remaining 12 seats. At age 38, David Burt became the youngest person ever to take on the role of premier.
In the early 21st century, independence from Great Britain was still an issue, and the government established a commission in 2004 to discuss the procedures by which it might be achieved. The commission issued its formal report the following year, but the idea of cutting ties continued to lack wide support among citizens. In 2002 the British Overseas Territories Act granted full British citizenship to Bermudians, which would not automatically accrue to citizens of an independent Bermuda.
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