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Republic of Kiribati

Short-tailed Shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris ©Ian Montgomery Website

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) consists of 33 low lying coral atolls. It is sub-divided into three main groups known as the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix and the Line Islands.

Kiribati has very few natural resources. Originally, the islands had phosphate deposits, but those were exhausted by the time the country gained it independence from Britain in 1979. The bulk of natural resources and national exports now are copra and fish. 2.7% or about 2,000 hectares of Kiribati is forested.

Temperature varies between 25’ and 33’C and 50 to 63 per cent of annual possible sunshine of 4135 hours. The wet season extends from Decenber to May and rainfall variation is high in most of the islands. A gentle breeze from the easterly quarter is predominant.

Kiribati consists of about 32 atolls and one island (Banaba), with at least three in each hemisphere. The groups of islands are:

Banaba: an isolated island between Nauru and the Gilbert Islands

Gilbert Islands: 16 atolls located some 930 miles (1,500 km) north of Fiji
Phoenix Islands: 8 atolls and coral islands located some 1,100 miles (1,800 km) southeast of the Gilberts
Line Islands: 8 atolls and one reef, located about 2,050 miles (3,300 km) east of the Gilberts

Banaba (or Ocean Island) is a raised-coral island which was once a rich source of phosphates, but it was mostly mined out before independence. The rest of the land in Kiribati consists of the sand and reef rock islets of atolls or coral islands which rise but a few metres (at most 6.5 feet) above sea level. The soil is thin and calcareous, making agriculture very difficult. Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in the Line Islands is the world's largest atoll. Based on a 1995 realignment of the International Date Line, Kiribati is now the easternmost country in the world, and was the first country to enter into the year 2000 at Caroline Island, which, not coincidentally, has been renamed Millennium Island.

According to the South Pacific Regional Environment Program, two small uninhabited Kiribati islets, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea, disappeared underwater in 1999. The islet of Tepuka Savilivili (Tuvalu; not a Gilbertese name) no longer has any coconut trees due to salination. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that sea levels will rise by about half a metre (20 in) by 2100 due to global warming and a further rise would be inevitable. It is thus likely that within a century the nation's arable land will become subject to increased soil salination and will be largely submerged.

Global warming is by far the single largest threat faced by Kiribati. The biggest threat from global warming is flooding of the islands, rendering them uninhabitable. However, freshwater salinization and erosion are also dangers. Exotic species are dangers on the biodiversity front. Most of the islands have been affected by this threat. For example, large feral cats have driven most of the species of birds to nesting only on isolated islets. Man's poaching, enhanced by access to new vehicles which can reach bird colonies, has threatened other species of birds. Also, exotic plants have been introduced, causing harmul effects among some sea bird species. A final issue is the pollution of lagoons due to increased population and the ensuing dumping of waste products, leading to groundwater sources being at risk.



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Number of Species

Number of bird species: 74


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Useful Reading

A Guide to the Birds of Fiji and Western Polynesia

- including American Samoa, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Wallis and Futuna Dick Watling 272 pages, 16 col plates, figs, tabs, maps. Distributed by NHBS

ISBN: 9829030040

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Useful Information

National Bird

Frigate - Kiribati is one of the very few nations [I can only think of Mexico, and someone just told me about Zambia] that has a bird on its national flag.

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Other Links

Flora and Fauna of Kiribati


The Flora and Fauna of Kiribati aptly complement the humid and wet climate of the Kiribati islands…