Official name: Republic of Kiribati
Area: 717 square kilometers (277 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Unnamed location on Banaba (81 meters/266 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: Midnight = noon GMT
Longest distances: Not available
Land boundaries: None
Coastline: 1,143 kilometers (709 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Kiribati (h2onounced "Kiribass") is a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and Australia, situated at the intersection of the equator and the international date line. The islands are scattered over more than five million square kilometers (two million square miles) of ocean.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Kiribati has no territories or dependencies.
Located in the equatorial region, Kiribati's climate is tempered by the easterly trade winds, and humidity is high during the November to April rainy season. Occasional gales and tornadoes occur on the islands, even though they lie outside the tropical hurricane belt. The average temperature is 27°C (81°F) year-round. Daily temperatures, however, range between 25°C and 32°C (77°F and 90°F). Near the equator, annual rainfall averages 102 centimeters (40 inches), and in the extreme north and south, it averages 305 centimeters (120 inches). The islands also face the possibility of severe droughts.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Kiribati comprises three island groups of thirty-three low atolls, or coral islands. The three island groups are dispersed over the mid-Pacific: the Gilbert Islands on the equator; the Phoenix Islands to the east; and the Line Islands to the north of the equator.
The Gilbert group consists of Abaiang, Abemama, Aranuka, Arorae, Banaba (formerly Ocean Island), Beru, Butaritari, Kuria, Maiana, Makin, Marakei, Nikunau, Nonouti, Onotoa, Tabiteuea, Tamana, and Tarawa.
The Phoenix group is composed of Birnie, Kanton (Abariringa), Enderbury, Gardner (Nikumaroro), Hull (Orona), McKean, Phoenix (Rawaki), and Sydney (Manra).
The Line Group encompasses Christmas (Kiritimati), Fanning (Tabuaeran), Malden, Starbuck, Vostock, Washington (Teraina), Caroline, and Flint; the last two are leased to commercial interests on Tahiti. Only some of the islands are inhabited. With an area of 481 square kilometers (186 square miles), Christmas Island (Kiritimati) is the largest atoll in the world.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
As almost all of the islands are coral atolls (except for Banaba), they are built on a submerged volcanic chain and are low-lying.
Sea Inlets and Straits
A reef encloses a lagoon in most of the atolls.
Islands and Archipelagos
Christmas Island (Kiritimati), representing about half the total land area of Kiribati, is the largest of the world's coral atolls. The other Line Islands—Tabuaeran, Malden, Starbuck, Vostok, Teraina, and Flint—are either sparsely inhabited or uninhabited, although Tabuaeran Island has become a stop for cruise ships.
Banaba Island is among the most westerly islands in Kiribati, and once was a rich source of phosphate. But of all the islands making up the country, Banaba has suffered the most negative environmental effects from phosphate mining, which include air pollution, water pollution, loss of green cover, and diminished aesthetic appeal of the natural surroundings. The land quality and phosphate resources have both deteriorated to the point that Banaba is no longer either mined or inhabited.
Because of Christmas Island's low-lying land, it is sensitive to changes in sea level; a rise of even 60 centimeters (24 inches) in sea level would leave the island uninhabitable. On the east coast of Christmas Island (Kiritimati) is the Bay of Wrecks, named for the many sunken ships that struck the coral reefs just offshore. The western coast of the island forms a large, reverse C -shape, enclosing a lagoon.
6 INLAND LAKES
There are dozens of lakes and ponds sprinkled across the interiors of the islands. Christmas Island has several large lagoons lying in its interior, including Manulu Lagoon in the north, Isles Lagoon in the center, and Fresh Water Lagoons in the south.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The islands of Kiribati do not support any rivers.
There are no desert regions in Kiribati.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
The soil is poor and rainfall is variable on the islands, making cultivation of most crops impossible. Coconut palms and pandanus trees, however, grow without difficulty on most of the islands.
The islands are low-lying, with no significant hill or valley regions.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
The islands of Kiribati are low-lying, with little variation in elevation. The island of Banaba, however, has the country's highest elevation, at 81 meters (266 feet) high.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
The islands of Kiribati have no significant canyons or caves.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
There are no elevated regions in Kiribati above 81 meters (266 feet).
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
There are no significant man-made features in Kiribati.
DID YOU KNOW?
Most Kiribatians live in small villages of 10 to 150 houses. They build their own homes from local materials.
14 FURTHER READING
Däniken, Erich von. Pathways to the Gods: The Stones of Kiribati . New York: Putnam, 1982.
Grimble, Arthur Francis. Migrations, Myth, and Magic from the Gilbert Islands . London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1972.