7 Interesting Facts About Kiribati

Encompassing 33 ring-shaped reefs, Kiribati sits in the central Pacific Ocean. One of the Outer Gilbert Islands, the area is the only place on earth to fall under four hemispheres – east, north, south and west. It’s one of the South Pacific’s most idyllic chain of islands, complete with swaying palms, white sands and turquoise waters but few people visit. In fact, Kiribati receives just 6,000 visitors a year, making it the third-least visited country in the world. Looking to clue up on Kiribati? From the world’s largest protected marine area to early-doors New Year’s Eve parties, here are a few interesting facts about Kiribati.

Interesting facts about Kiribati

1. Humans have lived in Kiribati for thousands of years

There is evidence of human habitation in Kiribati dating back some 5,000 years. These early settlers came from Micronesia. In the 14th century, the Samoans settled on the islands, followed by the Fijians and Tongans. Spanish explorers first sighted Kiribati in the early 16th century but the islands weren’t documented on maps until first whalers and coconut oil traders arrived on the islands in the mid-19th century.

It became a British protectorate in 1892 and remained so until the Japanese occupied parts of the archipelago during World War II. However, US forces swiftly liberated the islands during the Battle of Tarawa, widely recognised as one of the bloodiest battles in US Marine Corps History. It remained a British protectorate until 1979.

interesting facts about Kiribati

2. Kiribati used to be the Gilbert Islands

British naval captain Thomas Gilbert first spotted Kiribati and the surrounding islands en route to China from Australia in 1788. Later, in 1820 the islands became the Gilbert Islands. Kiribati is the local translation of Gilberts. That’s not the only relation to Gilbert either. The local language is Gilbertese.

interesting facts about Kiribati

3. Kiribati was a nuclear testing ground

From 1957–1962 the British military conducted nuclear tests on Christmas Island and Malden Island in Kiribati. Known as Operation Grapple, the tests involved early atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs. They initiated nine nuclear explosions overall. Local people were forced to leave their homes or left to be exposed to radiation.

In 2015, the UN representative for Kiribati, Ambassador Makurita Baaro. stated, “Today, our communities still suffer from the long-term impacts of the tests, experiencing higher rates of cancer, particularly thyroid cancer, due to exposure to radiation.”

interesting facts about Kiribati

4. Kiribati is the first country in the world to celebrate New Year

Kiribati is 14 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which also makes it the first country in the world to celebrate a New Year.

5. Kiribati is home to one of the most densely populated places in the world

South Tarawa, the main island of Kiribati, is one of the most densely populated places in the world. This tiny crescent of land is home to around 50,000 people, with a population density similar to Tokyo or Hong Kong.

6. Kiribati is home to the world’s largest designated Marine Protected Area

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) stretches across 408,250 sq. km. It’s the largest designated Marine Protected Area in the world and the country’s first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site. It encompasses 14 underwater mounts, 800 known species of fauna, 200 coral species, 500 fish species and 18 marine mammals, as well as 44 bird species.

7. Climate change presents a real danger to Kiribati

Kiribati also has one of the world’s lowest average elevations, with an average elevation of just two metres. Climate change presents a real threat to this low-lying country. It is also already experiencing flooding, contamination of water sources, and food scarcity. Additionally, most of Kiribati’s income comes from fishing in their biodiverse coral reefs, foreign government aid, fishing exports, coconut exports, and tourism – all of which are threatened by sea-level rise.

In 1999, two uninhabited Kiribati islands – Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea – disappeared underwater. To combat rising sea levels, Kiribati purchased 6,000 acres of land from Fiji in case residents need to evacuate.

Allie D'Almo

Allie is a passionate traveller with a hearty interest in great food and stories. She likes to travel slowly, particularly to underrated and underloved places. She’s lived in Italy and is now based in London, where she spends most of her time either plotting her next trip or writing about her last one.

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