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The English word cay comes from the Spanish word cayo and this from the Taíno word cayo meaning "small island". The English words key and quay (which means wharf) come from the old French kai meaning "sand bank". Because it is a Taíno word, "cay" (and the other forms) are used mainly in the Caribbean, but the type of island is found in the tropical seas where there are coral reefs.
Sand cays are built on the edge of the coral reefs, opposite the direction from which the wind blows most of the time. Because of that, cays are often elongated. Tides and wind (and sometimes sea birds) deposit coral debris. Weather affects the formation of cays greatly; large tides would bring much more debris onto the cay and thus make it larger, while a hurricane destroys a cay.
Notes and references
- "...cayos en esta lengua son islas" ("...cays in this language are islands") Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1965) (in Spanish). Historia de las Indias, Libro I, Cap. XL. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica.