A lot of us like travelling. I think it’s human nature to love a change in scenery. We love it so much that we go all over the world to seek out new lands, stay on said lands, eat their food, learn their culture, and bring weird things back home.
Pirates and colonists did pretty much the same centuries ago, their actions sanctioned by this royal family or that, like this guy here, Christopher Columbus. Dude did some real bad things while he was out exploring though but this post isn’t about him.
If you look at the many islands scattered all across the oceans on Earth, you’ll see civilisation on just about any piece of land that you can build on, no matter how small or remote that piece of land is from the rest of civilisation.
Take for instance Tarawa, a beautiful island that looks like this.
Erm, it’s an island. What’s so special about it?
Well, actually, it looks like this. Like it had its island innards ripped out or something.
Tarawa is an atoll. Like an island a atoll is a piece of land surrounded by water on all four sides, but unlike an island, an atoll is ring-shaped and surrounds a second body of water on the inside, a lagoon.
If you want to know how an atoll is formed, check out this video. It involves an active volcano becoming dormant, and corals making a home around the area, and over millions of years, the weight of the volcano causes it to sink beneath the sea level creating the lagoon, and the top parts of the coral reef dies and hardens once exposed to the air (above water level), forming what we know now as an atoll.
Where in the world is Tarawa? Glad you asked (even though I did the asking for you). Here’s where it roughly is from Papua New Guinea, South Korea and Hawaii.
Yup, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You’d think there’s probably nothing there but coconuts and crabs and coconut crabs. But of course, why would I write about this if that were the case?
On the southwestern corner of Tarawa island is Betio Island, home to the New Zealand Memorial to US Marines and Navy (Google Map link). The memorial was erected to remember the sacrifices made by coastwatchers on Tarawa island during the second World War.
(If you want to know more about that, read up on the Battle of Tarawa, one of the bloodiest battles in World War 2 which left 6000 dead on both sides.)
Back to Tarawa. If you follow the map above, you will find many things in the area.
Follow the stretch of the island and there’s a lot more things to find, like an international airport, a post office, banks, a lot of churches, a national stadium, hotels, lodges, gas stations, a hospital, a university campus and a Toyota accessories shop (wut?).
At this point, I decided to switch to the satellite view of the island. This is what I freaking saw (link).
So it turns out that South Tarawa (bottom half of the island) is home to about 56,000 (2010) people. This is half of the entire population of the Republic of Kiribati which is around 112,850 (2009).
Tarawa is the capital of the Republic of Kiribati. The republic itself has a total land area of 810 sq km across 32 atolls and 1 island, of which 21 are inhabited. The islands include the atolls of the Gilbert Islands , Phoenix Islands , and the Line Islands , as well as Banaba which is a raised coral island.
And since I’ve brought up the name of Kiribati, here are 12 facts about the republic:
1. It’s made up of the Gilbert Island, Banaba, Phoenix and the Line Islands, 32 atolls and 1 island in total.
2. Kiribati is pronounced Ki-ri-bas. If you see a “ti”, you “s” it. This means Kiritimati (one of the islands) is pronounced Christmas.
3. Kiribati is the local pronunciation of Gilberts (of Gilberts Islands, named after the British explorer Thomas Gilbert who sailed by in 1788).
4. Kiribati became independent of the UK in July of 1979. It became a member of the U.N. in 1999.
5. It’s the only country to extend across all four hemispheres: northern, southern, eastern and western. Yup, it’s another group of islands, like the Diomede Islands, that is separated by the International Date Line.
6. In 1994, the Kiribati government adjusted the location of the International Date Line as the western and eastern sides of the republic were separated by a full day. In a regular work week, businesses can only be conducted in four of those five days due to the time difference. On the day that this change took effect, eastern Kiribati went from Dec 30, 1994 straight to Jan 1, 1995. Eastern Kiribati never saw Dec 31, 1994.
7. Due to its proximity to the International Date Line, putting it at UTC+14, Kiribati is the first country to receive the new year; in particular, the Line Islands on the eastern side which includes Christmas Island or Kiritimati. Christmas Island is one of the first countries in the world to welcome the new year.
8. In the 1950s, Christmas Island was the site for quite a number of nuclear weapons testing by the UK and the U.S. The native islanders were not evacuated for the testing.
9. On Tarawa island, upgrading efforts of the 30+km main road from Betio to Bonriki (where the international airport is) were funded by the World Bank in 2014. The total cost is estimated to be around USD38.84million.
10. Kiribati has 23 airports and only two of them are international airports. The currency used in Kiribati is Australian Dollars.
11. Climate change and rising sea levels are endangering the livelihood of the people of Kiribati. The islands suffer from drought and the lack of fresh water as well as coastal flooding from sudden and extreme rainfall. While we’re waiting to see the effects of climate change where we live, these people are already suffering through tangible impacts. Islands as remote as Tarawa have problems with water supply, managing their waste and nutrition during long periods of drought – it is difficult to grow vegetables if you don’t have a steady supply of fresh water. Some of the efforts for self-sustenance include a push for hydroponic vegetable growing as well as church-funded efforts for raising chickens.
12. Because of rising sea levels and erratic weather some villages on some of the islands have been washed away. The local government fears that some of the islands such as Millennium Island may be claimed by the sea by 2025. There is talk of relocation of the people should the environmental impacts become too overwhelming (and there are still quarters arguing that climate change isn’t real and instead of sinking, the islands in the Pacific are “growing”). For the purpose of relocation in the future, the Kiribati government had purchased 20 sq km on Vanua Levu, Fiji. The land is 2000 km from home. And Kiribati’s population numbers more than 100,000 people. We don’t need a math degree to figure out that’s going to be a very difficult task.