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Virgin Islands, group of about 90 small islands, islets, cays, and rocks in the West Indies, situated some 40 to 50 miles (64 to 80 kilometres) east of Puerto Rico. The islands extend from west to east for about 60 miles and are located west of the Anegada Passage, a major channel connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Their combined land area is about 195 square miles (505 square kilometres).
The islands are administered in two groups—the British Virgin Islands and the United States Virgin Islands. The former is a British colony consisting of four larger islands—Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Jost Van Dyke—and 32 smaller islands and islets, of which more than 20 are uninhabited. Their total area is 59 square miles, and they lie to the north and east of the U.S. islands. The latter group, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior as an unincorporated territory, consists of three larger islands—St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas—and some 50 smaller islets and cays, with a total area of 133 square miles.
The Virgin Islands are noted for their inviting subtropical climate, which attracts a large number of tourists each year to swim in the warm aquamarine waters and frequent the sandy beaches and harbours. Apart from the tourist industry, the islands have few economic resources; financial aid is provided by the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively. Fresh water is scarce. In recent years some tension has arisen between the inhabitants of the islands and people from other parts of the Caribbean who have immigrated, particularly to the United States Virgin Islands, to seek jobs and secure better living conditions.
Although the Virgin Islands form the easternmost extension of the Greater Antilles, they are often included in discussions of the Lesser Antilles because of their size and proximity to that island chain. The Virgin Islands themselves are the peaks of submerged mountains that rise from a submarine plateau. While the Caribbean deepens to a 15,000-foot trench between the island of St. Croix, to the south, and the rest of the group to the north, the greater part of the plateau is covered by at most 165 feet of water. Most of the islands rise only to a few hundred feet above sea level, although isolated peaks are well over 1,200 feet. The highest point is Mount Sage on Tortola, which is 1,710 feet (521 metres) high.
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