The area controlled by Guyana is located between latitudes 1° and 9°N and longitudes 56° and 62°W.
The country can be divided into five natural regions: a narrow, fertile swamp along the Atlantic coast (Low Coastal Plain), where the majority of the population lives; a white sand belt further inland (Hillly Sand and Clay Region), where most of Guyana’s mineral deposits are found; the dense rainforests (Wooded Highlands Region) in the southern part of the country; the desert savannah in the southwest; and the smaller Inner Plain (Inner Savannah), which consists mainly of mountains that gradually rise to the Brazilian border.
Guyana’s highest mountains include Mount Ayanganna (2,042 metres or 6,699 feet), Mount Caburaí (1,465 metres or 4,806 feet) and Mount Roraima (2,772 metres or 9,094 feet – Guyana’s highest mountain) on the Brazil-Guyana-Venezuela tri-border, part of the Pakaraima range. Mount Roraima and the mesas (tepuis) of Guyana are said to have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s 1912 novel The Lost World. There are also numerous volcanic escarpments and waterfalls, including Kaieteur Falls, considered the largest waterfall in the world. North of the Rupununi River is the Rupununi Savannah, and to the south are the Kanuku Mountains.
The four longest rivers are the Essequibo with 1,010 kilometres, the Courantyne with 724 kilometres, the Berbice with 595 kilometres and the Demerara with 346 kilometres. The Corentyne River forms the border with Suriname. Several large islands are located at the mouth of the Essequibo, including the 145 km wide Shell Beach on the northwest coast, which is also an important breeding area for sea turtles (mainly leatherbacks) and other wildlife.
The local climate is tropical and generally hot and humid, although tempered by the north-easterly trade winds along the coast. There are two rainy seasons, the first from May to mid-August, the second from mid-November to mid-January.
Guiana has one of the largest pristine rainforests in South America, parts of which are almost inaccessible to man. Guyana’s rich natural history was described by early explorers Sir Walter Raleigh and Charles Waterton, and later by naturalists Sir David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell. In 2008, the BBC broadcast a three-part programme entitled Lost Land of the Jaguar, which highlighted the enormous diversity of wildlife, including undiscovered species and rarities such as the giant otter and the harpy eagle.
In 2012, Guyana received a $45 million award from Norway for its efforts to protect the rainforest. This follows a 2009 agreement between the two countries, which provides a total of $250 million for the protection and conservation of the natural habitat. So far, the country has received $115 million of the total.
Guyana is in a border dispute with Suriname, which claims the area east of the left bank of the Corentyne and New Rivers in southwestern Suriname, and with Venezuela, which claims the land west of the Essequibo River, formerly belonging to the Dutch colony of Essequibo and part of the Guayana Essequiba of Venezuela. The maritime aspect of the territorial dispute with Suriname was submitted to arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and a decision was announced on 21 September 2007. The decision, concerning the Caribbean Sea north of the two nations, found that both parties had violated treaty obligations and refused to order compensation for either party.
When the British surveyed British Guiana in 1840, they included the entire Cuyuni River basin in the colony. Venezuela disagreed and claimed all the territory west of the Essequibo River. In 1898, at Venezuela’s request, an international arbitration tribunal was convened and in 1899 issued an award that ceded about 94% of the disputed territory to British Guiana. Venezuela never accepted this award and raised the issue again at the time of Guyana’s independence. The issue is now settled by the 1966 Geneva Treaty, signed by the governments of Guyana, Britain and Venezuela, and Venezuela continues to claim Guayana Esequiba. Venezuela calls this area the ‘Zona en Reclamación’ (recovery zone) and Venezuelan maps of the national territory systematically include it and delineate it with dotted lines.
The specific small disputed areas involving Guyana are Ankoko Island with Venezuela, the Corentyne River with Suriname, and the Tigri Zone or New River Triangle with Suriname. In 1967, a team of Surinamese investigators was encountered in the New River Triangle and forcibly removed. In August 1969, a Guyana Defence Force patrol discovered an unauthorised military camp and a partially completed airstrip within the Triangle, as well as documented evidence of Surinamese intent to occupy the entire disputed area. After an exchange of fire, the Surinamese are driven out of the triangle.
Environment and biodiversity
The following habitats have been categorised for Guyana: Coastal, marine, littoral, palustrine estuarine, mangrove, river, lake, swamp, savannah, white sand forest, brown sand forest, montane forest, cloud forest, lowland rainforest and dry evergreen shrub (NBAP, 1999). Some 14 areas of biological interest have been identified as potential hotspots for a national system of protected areas. More than 80% of Guyana is still covered by forests, which are also home to the world’s rarest species, ranging from dry evergreen and seasonal forests to mountain and lowland rainforests. These forests are home to over a thousand species of trees. Guyana’s tropical climate, unique geology and relatively pristine ecosystems support vast areas of species-rich tropical forests and natural habitats with a high degree of endemism. Approximately eight thousand plant species are found in Guyana, half of which are found nowhere else.
Guyana has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. Guyana has one of the richest collections of mammalian fauna of any region of comparable size in the world, with 1,168 species of vertebrates and 814 species of birds. The Guiana Shield region is little known and extremely biologically rich. Unlike other parts of South America, over 70% of the natural habitat remains intact.
The rich natural history of British Guiana was described by early explorers Sir Walter Raleigh and Charles Waterton, and later by naturalists Sir David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell.
In February 2004, the Guyanese government issued title to over one million acres (4,000 km2 ) of land in the Konashen indigenous district and declared the land a Konashen Community Owned Conservation Area (COCA), to be managed by the Wai Wai. In doing so, Guyana has created the largest community-owned conservation area in the world.
This important event follows a request by the Wai Wai community to the Government of Guyana and Conservation International Guyana (CIG) for assistance in developing a sustainable plan for their lands in Konashen. The three parties have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation that sets out a plan for the sustainable use of the biological resources of the Konashen CZO, identifies threats to the area’s biodiversity and helps develop projects to raise awareness of the CZO and generate the income needed to maintain its protected status.
The Konashen Indigenous District in southern Guyana is home to the headwaters of the Essequibo River, Guyana’s main source of water, and drains the Kassikaityu, Kamoa, Sipu and Chodikar Rivers. Southern Guyana contains some of the most pristine areas of evergreen forest in the northern part of South America. Most of the forests found here are large evergreen forests in the hilly and low mountainous regions, with large areas of flooded forest along the main rivers. Due to the very low human population density in this region, most of these forests are still intact. The Smithsonian Institution has identified nearly 2,700 species of plants from this region, representing 239 different families, and there are certainly more species yet to be recorded.
This incredible diversity of plants supports an even more impressive diversity of animals, recently documented by a biological survey organised by Conservation International. The clean, unpolluted waters of the Essequibo watershed are home to a remarkable diversity of fish and aquatic invertebrates, as well as giant otters, capybaras and several species of caiman.
On land, large mammals such as jaguars, tapirs, bush dogs, giant anteaters and saki monkeys are still common. More than 400 species of birds have been reported in the area, and the reptile and amphibian fauna is equally rich. The forests of Konashen COCA are also home to countless species of insects, arachnids and other invertebrates, many of which remain unknown and unnamed.
Konashen ACCA is relatively unique in that it contains a high level of diversity and biological richness, preserved in an almost pristine state; such places have become rare on Earth. This fact has given rise to various non-exploitative and ecologically sustainable industries, such as ecotourism, which successfully exploit the biological richness of Konashen SAC with comparatively low sustainable impacts.