The country of Kiribati became an independent Republic in 1979 and the 41st member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is located in Oceana and has a total land area of 811 sq km scattered over about 3.5 million sq km of ocean across the central Pacific. It consists of three archipelagos, namely, the Line Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and the Gilbert Islands.
1. This is the only country in the world that can be found in four hemispheres
An interesting fact about Kiribati is that it is the only one situated in all four hemispheres of the world. The country straddles the equator occupying northern and southern hemispheres, and it also lies along the Prime Meridian of the globe occupying the eastern and western hemispheres. There was a 23-hour difference between eastern islands and western islands of the country that were on either side of the International Date Line. In 1995, they moved the dateline and reduced the time difference to two hours so that the whole country will have the same working day.
2. There is only one main road on the island
Kiribati is home to 111,796 residents (July 2020 est.), yet there is only one main road and it is found in the country’s capital, Tarawa Island, a fun Kiribati fact. With more than half of the total population living here, they can only depend on the South Tarawa Road, which is 36 kilometers long that connects the international airport in the east and the international seaport in the west of Tarawa. There are no alternative routes that will provide access to government, health, and other services that the residents would need.
3. Kiribati is pronounced as ‘Kiribas’
The country’s name is pronounced as ‘Kiribas’ or ‘kee-ree-bahss’ with ‘ti’ sounding like ‘s.’ This is actually the local pronunciation of “Gilbert.” The country’s former designation was Gilbert Islands. It was named after the British captain Thomas Gilbert who sighted the island in 1788. A citizen of Kiribati is called I-Kiribati, pronounced as ‘ee-kiribas.’
4. The whole country is in danger of being completely underwater
The threat of climate change is all too real in Kiribati, a low-lying nation in the Pacific Ocean. Its topography is relatively flat. The highest point in Tarawa, where most of the residents live, is just three meters above sea level. With the average rate of sea level rising each year, it is believed that it is just a matter of time before the sea covers the entire country.
5. Kiribati has 32 atolls and one raised coral island
An interesting fact about Kiribati is that this country is comprised of 33 islands, and 32 of them are atolls with the remaining one a raised coral island, the Banaba Island. An atoll is basically a ring-shaped coral island with central lagoons. There are 16 atolls in Gilbert Islands while there are eight atolls each in Phoenix Islands and Line Islands. Only 21 islands are inhabited.
6. All citizens of Kiribati might relocate to Fiji in the future
In 2014, the country had finalized its payment for the 20 sq km of land in Vanua, Levu, one of the Fiji islands. Fiji, which is 2,000 km away from Kiribati will be the new home of its citizens should their country become uninhabitable in the future. The Fijian Prime Minister had confirmed that the I-Kiribati would be welcome to settle permanently in Fiji should that day comes.
7. The Kiritimati Island is a bird sanctuary
Kiritimati (ki-ris-mas), one of the Northern Line Islands, is considered as the largest atoll in the Pacific Ocean. It is a great place for bird watching as it is a sanctuary and breeding ground for seabirds. The island is home to 18 species of birds which include the endemic Christmas Island Warbler or Bokikokiko and the endangered Phoenix Petrel and White Throated Storm Petrel.
8. There are still relics of World War II in Kiribati
When crossing the Pacific Ocean during the war, it is advantageous to have control of the island that is right in the middle of it. For this reason, the Japanese invaded Tarawa Island and then the Americans wanted it too. And so, The Battle of Tarawa happened. There are several relics still found here as a reminder of that battle and these include solid concrete bunkers and pillboxes, coastal defense guns, amtracs or amphibious tracked vehicles, and rusted tanks, a fun Kiribati fact.
9. PIPA is the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) is 408,250 sq. km in area that includes eight atolls and two submerged reefs. It is almost untouched by humans, making it an intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystem. There are 30 large submerged volcanoes in this part of the ocean that is 4,500 to 6,000 meters deep. This protected area has 800 species of fauna that includes 500 fish species, 44 bird species, 18 marine mammal species, and 200 species of corals. In 2010, it was designated as the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site, an interesting Kiribati fact.
10. Kiritimati and Malden were used for nuclear weapon testing in the 1950s
Two atolls of Line Islands were used as sites for nuclear weapon testing and it started in 1957. Those who lived here at that time were not evacuated. There were 33 nuclear detonations in total that were done by the UK and United States. It only stopped in 1963 when a treaty was signed to ban nuclear testing in the atmosphere, space, and underwater.
11. Eight decades of mining left Banaba Island almost uninhabitable
The tiny island of Banaba is rich in high-grade phosphate rock that can be converted to agricultural fertilizers. Intensive strip-mining operations started in 1900 by the Pacific Phosphate Company followed by the consortium of the British, New Zealand, and Australian governments. Mining only stopped in 1979 when the deposits were depleted and 90 percent of the island surface was stripped away. The place now is unfit for growing food, making the island almost uninhabitable. Only a few hundred people remained in the island.
12. Kiribati is seriously lacking in fresh water supply
Although surrounded by water, the people of Kiribati are experiencing difficulty in having a supply of fresh water. The rising sea levels, flooding, and coastal erosion are contaminating their groundwater. In December of 2019, the World Bank approved US$15 million in support for South Tarawa Water Supply Project that will provide access to a steady and safe water supply.
Kiribati is a remarkable country with wildlife sanctuaries and marine protected areas. Because of its relative isolation being at the heart of the Pacific Ocean, they were able to conserve the wonder and beauty of the place. While there is a threat to their nation being submerged in water due to global warming, most of the people of Kiribati are not losing hope that somehow their country will survive.
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