Caribbean Earthquake and Volcano Activity

Things you need to know about cruise ship safety before you leave port

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Cruise Ship Natural Hazards


Know before you go!

A natural hazard is a threat of a naturally occurring event that will have a negative effect on people or the environment. Many natural hazards are interrelated, e.g. earthquakes can cause tsunamis.

Tsunami Warning Links

Pacific Tsunami Warning Center     West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center
Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program      Puerto Rico Seismic Network


Caribbean Seismic Activity

The islands of the Caribbean are located in a region southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and Northern America, east of Central America, and to the north of South America.

Source: USGS

Caribbean Tectonic Plate

caribbean tectonic plates map

The Caribbean Plate is a mostly oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Caribbean Sea off the north coast of South America. Diversity of tectonic regimes characterizes the perimeter of the Caribbean plate, involving no fewer than four major adjacent plates (North America, South America, Nazca, and Cocos).

Caribbean Plate Seismic Activity

caribbean plate seismic map

The Puerto Rico Trench, which is capable of producing earthquakes of magnitude 7 to 8 or greater, faces north and east into the Atlantic Ocean. There are few land areas or islands to block a tsunami generated near the Puerto Rico Trench from entering the Atlantic Ocean. The direction of the waves would depend on many factors, including where in the trench the earthquake occurred.

Mexico Seismic Activity

Mexico Tectonic Plates

mexico tectonic plates

Situated atop three of the large tectonic plates that constitute the Earth's surface, Mexico is one of the most seismically active regions on earth. The motion of these plates causes earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Mexico Earthquake Density

mexico earthquake density map





Areas of Mexico's coastline on the Gulf of California, including the Baja California Peninsula, are riding  northwestward on the Pacific plate. Rather than one plate sub ducting, the Pacific and North American plates grind past each other, creating a slip fault that is the southern extension of the San Andreas fault in California.

Mexico Seismicity

mexico sesimicity map





Motion along this fault in the past pulled Baja California away from the coast, creating the Gulf of California. Continued motion along this fault is the source of earthquakes in western Mexico.

Eastern Caribbean Volcanoes

caribbean volcanoes map usgs





 Active Volcanoes in the eastern Caribbean include:
Kick-em'-Jenny near Grenadines: most recent eruption was 2001;
Soufrière Volcano, Guadeloupe: most recent eruption was 1977;
Mont Pelée, Martinique: most recent eruptions 1929 to 1932; Soufrière Hills, Montserrat: most recent eruption 2010; La Soufrière, St. Vincent: most recent eruption was 1979.


USGS Tectonic Plates Map

Tectonic plates map

Earthquake epicenters 1963-1998

earthquake epicenters 1963-1998


The Soufriere Hills Volcano

soufriere volcano in montserrat

The island of Montserrat has a very active volcano and the Government of Montserrat has issued several recent proclamations and warnings urging residents and visitors to be vigilant and to be prepared to move at short notice.

Ongoing volcanic activity in the south of the island has led to the evacuation and relocation of residents of the so called ‘exclusion zone' since 1995.  Additional evacuations may occur when volcanic activity increases.  Because the volcano is still active and dangerous, access to the southern part of the island is restricted.  Persons entering restricted areas without authorization are subject to fine and/or imprisonment. In early 2007, Montserrat government authorities warned residents and visitors of volcanic activity and an increase of pyroclastic flows in Tyres Ghaut, Gages Valley and behind Gages Mountain.  After placing sections of the lower Belham Valley off limits in January 2007 due to the danger posed by growth of the volcano’s dome, the government of Montserrat lifted those restrictions in September.  Access to all areas on the southern flanks of the Belham Valley east of the Belham Bridge and areas south remains prohibited, as is south of Jack Boy Hill to Bramble Airport and beyond.

Good to Know

Early warning systems pose a problem in the Caribbean

The Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program (CTWP) was established in 2010 as the first step of a phased approach for the establishment of a Caribbean Tsunami Warning Center (CTWC). As funding permits, its staff will continue to grow over the years to meet the requirements of a CTWC.

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About Earthquakes

An earthquake (also known as a tremor or temblor) is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. Earthquakes are recorded with a seismometer, also known as a seismograph. The moment magnitude (or the related and mostly obsolete Richter magnitude) of an earthquake is conventionally reported, with magnitude 3 or lower earthquakes being mostly imperceptible and magnitude 7 causing serious damage over large areas. Ordinarily, subduction earthquakes under magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale do not cause tsunamis, although some instances of this have been recorded.  Most destructive tsunamis are caused by earthquakes of magnitude 7.5 or more.

About Tsunamis

Anything that rapidly displaces a large volume of water can cause a tsunami. Typically, tsunamis are caused by underwater earthquakes, but landslides, volcanic eruptions, calving icebergs, and (very rarely) meteorite impacts can also generate tsunamis. These types of events can cause large disturbances in the surface of the ocean, and when gravity pulls the water back down, the tsunami is born. The original Japanese term literally translates as "harbor wave."

International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC) - ITIC coordinates the efforts to extend the services of the national tsunami warning system of the United States to the international community in the Pacific basin.

Related Links:

Weather Updates
Travel Warnings
Safety Overview
Cruise Ship Fires
Sunken Passenger Ships
Sudden Lists/Rogue Waves
Unclassified Incidents
Incidents 2012
Incidents 2013
Incidents 2014
Incidents 2015

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Caribbean and Mexico Port Calls

Eastern Caribbean

Casa de Campo
Catalina Island
Grand Turk
La Romana
San Juan
St. John
St. Croix
St. Thomas
St. Maarten/Dutch
St. Martin/French

Western Caribbean

Grand Cayman
Montego Bay
Ocho Rios
Playa del Carmen
San Tomas

Southern Caribbean

Margarita Island
St. Kitts
St. Lucia
St. Vincent

Mexican Riviera

Cabo San Lucas
Puerto Vallarta

Yucatan Peninsula

Costa Maya