Kiribati, Land and Resources
Kiribati has a total land area of 811 sq km (313 sq mi). The islands extend about 3,900 km (about 2,400 mi) from east to west. From north to south they extend about 2,100 km (about 1,300 mi), straddling the equator. Kiritimati (also called Christmas Island), one of the Line Islands, occupies 609 sq km (235 sq mi) and has the largest land area of any atoll in the world. Kiribati’s exclusive economic zone (area of the ocean in which it controls fishing and other rights) covers more than 3 million sq km (more than 1 million sq mi).
Kiribati’s sandy infertile soils limit vegetation. Primary plant species include coconut palm, screw pine (Pandanus), and arrowroot. Rain collected in catchment systems is the primary source of fresh water. Marine life thrives in the waters surrounding Kiribati. The islands are home to numerous varieties of insects. Other animal life consists primarily of species introduced by humans.
Kiribati has a warm, humid climate, with average temperatures in the upper 20°sC (lower 80°sF). Annual rainfall, most of which falls between October and March, varies from about 3,050 mm (about 120 in) in the northern islands to one-third that amount or less in the southern islands. The southern islands experience frequent droughts. Kiribati lies outside of cyclone zones, and violent storms are infrequent.
With the exception of Banaba, a raised coral island with a maximum elevation of 81 m (266 ft), the islands of Kiribati are low-lying atolls that seldom rise more than 4 m (13 ft) above sea level. These atolls would be especially susceptible to flooding or even submersion if the ocean level were to rise. For this reason, Kiribati and other South Pacific nations have expressed concern about global warming, which could cause sea levels to rise.
Kiribati is almost entirely surrounded by coral reefs, an important tourism and fishing resource. Marine fishing has increased significantly since 1980, however, and the reefs have been damaged by the fishing industry. Access to safe water and sanitation is good in urban areas, where about one-third of the population resides. Drought is a persistent problem.