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Geography, Weather, & Wildlife of Kiribati


Kiribati (pronounced "KIRR-i-bas") consists of three island groups in Polynesia and Micronesia, all of which are coral reefs, plus one volcanic island, the island of Banaba. Banaba is, like the coral reefs, not that high as the country's highest point, which is on that island, is only 260 feet (80 meters) above sea level.

In the far western part of the country is the island of Banaba, but also in the western part of the country are the 17 Gilbert Islands, all of which are in Micronesia. In the central part of the country are the 8 islands in the Phoenix Island Chain and in the east are the 8 islands in the Line chain, which sit wholly in Polynesia. All of these islands are coral reefs and most of them are bare as the soil is poor and there are almost no plants or trees anywhere on the islands outside of Banaba.

The ocean currents around Kiribati move from the east to the west and in the southern part of the country the currents shift to the south. Most of the people are actually Micronesian in origin (despite the country being geographically in Polynesia) and most of these early people arrived via the water with the ocean currents. However, these ocean currents aren't enough to attract regular visitors so over time the people on Kiribati became almost completely isolated and developed a unique culture.


Kiribati's weather is hot, humid, rainy, and fairly predictable. This is partially due to the country's location nearly on the equator, which tends to temper weather extremes from both a temperature and a rain standpoint. This steady climate of rain and humidity help make the islands livable as fresh water is regularly available through rain. However, as a primarily coralline island nation, the soils still aren't excellent, so the rains do little more than allow human survival on the islands

The temperatures on the islands remain quite stable year round as daily lows hover around 72° F (22° C) and day time highs usually peak at about 79° F (26° C). With this heat is a regular humidity as well as fairly constant rains.

The northern Line Islands in the east get the most rain with an average of about 2 feet (600 mm) per month, although Christmas Island, also in this island chain, gets much less. These rains are fairly regular throughout the year, but tend to be a bit higher in the months of November to May, also known as the wet season in Kiribati. The Gilbert Islands in the far western part of the country get much less rain with an average of about 10 inches (250 mm) per month, and again the months of November to May tend to have a bit more than that average, while the rest of the months tend to get a bit less than that average.

Although cyclones are well known throughout the Pacific, Kiribati falls out of the cyclone zone. Despite this, heavy storms and cyclones can still hit the islands any time of year, but are most common from November to May.


Kiribati Wildlife - Coconut tree
Coconut tree

The number of native plants and animals in Kiribati are very limited since the country is an island nation. Despite its many islands and great length, Kiribati's native land animal life is almost non-existent and the plant life is nearly as absent. The migrating birds and sea life had the most significant presence in creating today's plant and animal life. Much of what is found on the islands today was introduced in pre-historic times by the migrating people, birds, winds, and ocean currents.

As an island nation that rose from the sea floor there were no native mammals in Kiribati, although a few bat species arrived thousands of years ago. Some species of rats also made their way to the islands hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. Other than this, no land mammals existed in Kiribati until the arrival of the earliest people, who brought with them dogs and pigs.

The seas are also home to mammals including dolphins and whales who call the surrounding waters home. These waters are also filled with thousands of fish, shellfish, and other forms of sea life. This sea life includes surgeonfish, clownfish, sailfish, puffer fish, butterfly fish, grouper, barracuda, tuna, snapper, bonefish, mackerel, marlin, mahi-mahi, shrimp, krill, crab, seahorses, manta rays, sharks, jellyfish, starfish, sea urchins, and coral among many others.

The water and the land have attracted more than just fish; they have also attracted numerous birds, including many that feed off the animals in the sea. The bird life in Kiribati includes frigatebirds, doves, parrots, ducks, heron, terns, warblers, pigeons, and cuckoos among others.

Kiribati Wildlife - Sugarcane

Like the mammalian life, the reptilian and amphibious life is fairly limited. The most common of these animals are those adapted to the water and swimming as sea turtles can be found in the nearby waters. Land species have again made their way to the islands in numerous methods and today lizards, snakes, and geckos are among the most common of these animals.

The insect and other small animal life is fairly diverse as many insects can fly or float and have made their way to Kiribati. These animals include butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, ants, flies, snails, spiders, and mosquitos among others.

The plant life, like the animal life, is limited due to geography and climate. The winds and water currents have taken seeds to the islands and in other cases birds have transported seeds to the islands. Because of this, many of the more commonly known plants on the islands today are not actually native to Kiribati, but rather arrived from distant islands like New Guinea and those further west. These plants, or their seeds, arrived with animals, people, winds, and ocean currents from island to island until they reached Kiribati. Plants from these islands, that now thrive in the country, include coconuts, taro, breadfruit, bananas, yams, arrowroot, lemons, and sugarcane among others.

There is also a presence of other trees and plants, including orchids, hibiscus, eucalyptus, frangipani, pawpaw, ferns, mosses, mangrove trees, and pandanus trees.

This page was last updated: April, 2013