Explore the Charm of Kiribati: 9 Little-Known Facts


Sitting in the middle of the serene and peaceful Pacific Ocean is the country of Kiribati. It is a chain of picturesque islands, each consisting of clear and untouched blue water, white sand, and swaying palm trees. 

Even though the country is not much talked about, there are many interesting facts about the Republic of Kiribati. From its eventful past to its intriguing present, there is so much to know about the place. 

Are you planning to visit Kiribati? Dive right in to learn some of the fascinating facts before you head there.  

1. Kiribati Gets Its Name From Thomas Gilbert 

Thomas Gilbert, a British naval captain, was the first to spot Kiribati along with the neighboring islands while he was traveling from Australia to China in 1788. 

Later on, in the year 1820, the islands came to be known as the Gilbert Islands. The local translation of Gilberts is Kiribati. But that’s not the only way the country has a relationship with Gilbert, the native language here is also Gilbertese.

2. Usher In The New Year Before Everyone Else

Kiribati is the furthest ahead on the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) by 14 hours, making it the very first country across the globe to celebrate every New Year. 

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If you are in this country, you will be among the first to welcome the new year and also soak in the first rays of the new rising sun.

3. Kiribati Has Been Inhabited For Thousands Of Years

Kiribati has been inhabited for many centuries, as suggested by the evidence dating back some 5,000 years. The earliest settlers of the islands were from Micronesia. 

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During the 14th century, the Samoans came to settle on these islands, and Fijians and Tongans followed them. Spanish explorers sighted Kiribati for the first time in the 16th century. 

However, these islands were documented on maps in the late 19th century, when the first whalers, as well as coconut oil traders, reached here. 

In 1892, the country became a British protectorate and retained that status until the Japanese went on to occupy the archipelago during World War II. 

The islands got liberation quickly when US forces fought the Battle of Tarawa, also widely recognized as the bloodiest battle in the history of the US Marine Corps History. Until 1979, the country was a British protectorate. 

4. It’s The Only Country That Is In All Hemispheres

Another fact that makes Kiribati stand out is that it’s the only country in the world that is present in all four hemispheres

The Kiribati islands are widespread and present on either side of the Equator, both in the northern as well as southern hemispheres. It also lies on the Prime Meridian, occupying both the eastern and western hemispheres.

5. The Local Language Is Gilbertese

Gilbertese or I-Kiribati is the language used by the locals. The unique language consists of 13 sounds. 

Here, the pronunciation of ‘ti’ is see. Therefore, the pronunciation of Kiribati is ‘Ki-ri-bas.’ Similarly, people here write Christmas Island as Kiritimati Island.

6. Kiribati Is Home To The Largest Marine Protected Area

You can also find the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, also called PIPA, here. It stretches across an area of 408,250 square km. 

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It is the biggest Marine Protected Area in the world and the country’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area consists of 14 underwater mounts, around 800 species of fauna known to humans, 200 species of corals, and 500 species of fish. You can also find over 18 marine mammals and 44 bird species here. 

7. It Sits On A Nuclear Weapon Test Site

Not many people know it, but Kiribati was once a test site for nuclear weapons. During the late 1950s, the UK was conducting nuclear weapon testing on a few islands. 

What’s shocking is that they did not evacuate the islands during these tests, and the locals kept on living there. Thankfully, they stopped the testing in 1963 with the signing of a treaty to ban nuclear testing in space, underwater, and in the atmosphere. 

8. 33 Coral Islands Make Up Kiribati

Kiribati consists of 33 coral islands, out of which 32 are atolls, with only one remaining as a raised coral island. 

Coral atolls can form only when corals create a reef or colony at the top of a volcanic island. When the reef reaches the water’s surface, it becomes land.

9. The Largest Atoll Is Kirtimati

Kiritimati, or Christmas Island, is the biggest atoll on the earth. It consists of almost half of the land area of Kiribati.

10. One Of The Most Densely Located Place Is In Kiribati

South Tarawa is the main island of the country and among the most densely populated places across the globe. It is merely a tiny crescent of land that is home to 50,000 people, and the population density is similar to Hong Kong or Tokyo. 

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11. Kiribati Faces Environmental Concerns And Has Purchased Land From Fiji

Serene Kiribati is among the few places in the world with the lowest average elevations. It has an average elevation of two meters. 

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The low-lying country faces a real threat because of climate change. It is experiencing issues like flooding and contamination of water sources. 

A significant income source of Kiribati is fishing in its biodiverse coral reefs and its exports, coconut exports, and tourism. And the rising sea level rise threatens all of them.

In the year 1999, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea, two uninhabited islands of Kiribati, disappeared underwater. Kiribati has also purchased land of 6,000 acres or 24 sq km in Fiji if the residents need to be evacuated due to the rising sea levels. 


Marko is a world traveler and adventurer, with a passion for discovering new cultures and landscapes. He has visited numerous countries across multiple continents, immersing himself in local customs and traditions along the way. Marko is always seeking out new and unique experiences, from hiking remote mountain trails to trying exotic foods and drinks.

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