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Where the ocean ends and the sea begins

Are seas, bays, and inlets part of oceans?

This is not an oceanography website. But anyone who says that geography and oceanography are unrelated is insane, because where the land ends, the sea begins, and vice versa.

There is, though, a more worthwhile question here: is the Mediterranean Sea part of the Atlantic Ocean? Or should it be regarded as a separate body of water? Answer: It looks fairly independent when you view a map of the region, so there’s good argument for calling it a separate sea. Yet, it’s still clearly connected to the Atlantic Ocean. Just go to Gibraltar or Morocco and you can see for yourself.

However, what about the Bay of Bengal? Isn’t it really just a place where the sea happens to curve in? An even better example is Monterrey Bay off the coast of California. It’s hardly a bay, just a place where the ocean curves in a little (although down below the surface, there’s a lot more going on than you might think). That doesn’t seem like it’s separate from the ocean, really.

Getting back to the point: where do we define the end of the ocean and the beginning of the sea? Here is a good example of a map that just assumes every body of water that’s connected to an ocean is part of an ocean. There’s a lot of sense in that view, because it leaves very little doubt about the issue and makes the whole concept of “ocean” logical. But let’s remember that oceans themselves are all connected: the “Southern Ocean”, especially, is more a idea or concept than an actual body of water. Really, the oceans are one huge basin where most of the world’s rainwater drains.

Since oceans are considered to be separate but are connected, couldn’t you say that the seas are connected to the oceans but are separate bodies of water because they are partially separated from the oceans by land? Is some sort of middle ground in this debate necessary?

A middle ground is not necessary in this case, but helpful. If you look at a map, either regional or of the world, you can see that the Red Sea is almost a lake of its own; therefore, considering it to be separate from the Indian Ocean makes a lot of sense. Meanwhile, the Bay of Bengal, for example, should probably be considered part of the Indian Ocean because it is comparatively “open”. Still, there are some bodies of water that aren’t so clear: are the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea part of the Atlantic Ocean? I (the Manager) lean towards yes, but the question should be left open for opinion. There is nothing wrong with opinion. Geography, especially in the naming of things, should have plenty of parts left open to opinion, because debate and discussion encourages recognition of geography as not an easy school subject, but instead a science based on logic and spacial understanding.

Is Europe a continent?

Are Europe and Asia really one continent called Eurasia?

Generally, we think of seven continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia (or Oceania), and Antarctica.

It’s easy to see how most of these are at least fairly separate from each other: Australia and Antarctica are completely surrounded by water, and the Panama Canal and the Darien Gap do a good job of separating North America from South America. The Suez Canal and the Red Sea, similarly, separate Africa and Asia. So we’re left with Europe and Asia; what really separates these two “continents”?

Geographers have attempted to draw some kind of border line between the two continents, but it’s generally more based on cultural differences than geographical ones. This is a good example of an attempt to draw a boundary, and while it looks sensible on a map, remember that mountain ranges and large lakes don’t create different landmasses.

Really, there’s no reason – other than cultural differences – to separate Europe and Asia into two continents. Do we say that the Far East is a separate continent because it is culturally different from other parts of Asia? Of course not. So, basically, Europe is a cultural region, not a continent. The same goes for Asia: it’s a cultural region, not a continent.

Of course, we’re assuming that the definition of a continent is something at least similar to “a continuous landmass”, but it doesn’t have to be. People say Oceania is a continent, but look at a map that shows the tectonic plates like this one, and it’s clear that saying that all those islands make up a continent isn’t based in any fact at all. Therefore, it’s better to go with Australia being a continent of its own, rather than Oceania.

Definitions of continents vary. A website called whatarethesevencontinents.com considers tectonic plates to mark the boundaries of continents, and this is definitely a reasonable way to look at it – and a map from that same website shows that, by that definition, Europe and Asia are clearly not separate. That really leaves little doubt. Whether you go by tectonic plate boundaries or by the landmasses themselves, it is clear that there is one continent called “Eurasia”.

That means that there are six continents, not seven: going in alphabetical order, the continents are Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Eurasia, North America, and South America. But that assumes there aren’t any other doubts anywhere else…