Geography of Kiribati

Aerial view of Marakei atoll
Aerial view of Marakei atoll in Kiribati.

George Steinmetz / Getty Images

Kiribati is an island nation located in Oceania in the Pacific Ocean. It is made up of 32 island atolls and one small coral island spread out over 1.3 million square miles. The country itself, however, has only 313 square miles (811 sq km) of area. Kiribati is also along the International Date Line on its easternmost islands and it straddles the Earth's equator. Because it is on the International Date Line, the country had the line shifted in 1995 so that all of its islands could experience the same day at the same time.

Fast Facts: Kiribati

  • Official Name: Republic of Kiribati
  • Capital: Tarawa
  • Population: 109,367 (2018)
  • Official Languages: I-Kiribati, English 
  • Currency: Australian dollar (AUD)
  • Form of Government: Presidential republic
  • Climate: Tropical; marine, hot and humid, moderated by trade winds
  • Total Area: 313 square miles (811 square kilometers)
  • Highest Point: Unnamed elevation on Banaba island at 265 feet (81 meters) 
  • Lowest Point: Pacific Ocean at 0 feet (0 meters)

History of Kiribati

The first people to settle Kiribati were the I-Kiribati when they settled on what are the present-day Gilbert Islands around 1000-1300 BCE. Fijians and Tongans later invaded the islands. Europeans did not reach the islands until the 16th century. By the 1800s, European whalers, traders, and slave merchants began visiting the islands and causing social problems. In 1892, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands agreed to become British protectorates. In 1900, Banaba was annexed after natural resources were found and in 1916 they all became a British colony. The Line and Phoenix Islands were also later added to the colony.

During World War II, Japan seized some of the islands and in 1943 the Pacific portion of the war reached Kiribati when United States forces launched attacks on the Japanese forces on the islands. In the 1960s, Britain began giving Kiribati more freedom of self-government and in 1975 the Ellice Islands broke away from the British colony and declared their independence in 1978. In 1977, the Gilbert Islands were given more self-governing powers and on July 12, 1979, they became independent with the name Kiribati.

Government of Kiribati

Today, Kiribati is considered a republic and it is officially called the Republic of Kiribati. The country's capital is Tarawa and its executive branch of government is made up of a chief of state and a head of government. Both of these positions are filled by Kiribati's president. Kiribati also has a unicameral House of Parliament for its legislative branch and Court of Appeal, High Court, and 26 Magistrates' courts for its judicial branch. Kiribati is divided into three different units, the Gilbert Islands, the Line Islands, and the Phoenix Islands, for local administration. There are also six different island districts and 21 island councils for Kiribati's islands.

Economics and Land Use in Kiribati

Because Kiribati is in a remote location and its area is spread over 33 small islands, it is one of the least developed Pacific island nations. It also has few natural resources, so its economy is mainly dependent on fishing and small handicrafts. Agriculture is practiced throughout the country and the main products of that industry are copra, taro, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, and assorted vegetables.

Geography and Climate of Kiribati

The islands making up Kiribati are located along the equator and International Date Line about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. The closest nearby islands are Nauru, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu. It is made up of 32 very low lying coral atolls and one small island. Because of this, Kiribati's topography is relatively flat and its highest point is an unnamed point on the island of Banaba at 265 feet (81 m). The islands are also surrounded by large coral reefs.

The climate of Kiribati is tropical and as such it is mainly hot and humid but its temperatures can be somewhat moderated by the trade winds.

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