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Words Sania Shahrasbi

The ocean is encroaching from every angle. Everywhere you look you can see thousands of shades of blue, green, turquoise, etc. Lying on the equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is an island nation. The ocean streams and runs through the country like veins in the human body. It is almost as if the life of the island depended on the water that runs through it. This island is called Kiribati.

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Geography and biodiversity

Home to 100,000 indigenous inhabitants, this country has a remarkably unique landscape. It has a total area of 810 square kilometers, scattered over 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean. It has 33 atolls, or ring-shaped coral reefs, unlike any other country in the world. Kiribati consists of three major islands: Gilbert, Line, and Phoenix.

Gilbert and Line Island house the majority of the population, while Phoenix Island is home to the Phoenix Island Marine Protected Area— 400,000 square kilometers of protected marine and land area. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010 for “containing exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance” and “outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of coastal and marine ecosystems,” this site is unlike any other in the world.

The protected area is one of the largest oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems, home to over 200 species of coral, 500 species of fish, and 18 marine mammals. Underwater dormant volcanoes, giant clams, and mating tuna all inhabit and are protected in these vast waters. On the white sand, one can see marine turtles nesting and 44 species of wild sea birds searching for the worthiest companions.

The biodiversity of the islands attracts tourists and scientist from all over the world to witness and study the exclusive underwater and terrestrial ecosystem on this island.

Outside the protected area, novice and professional fisherman are invited to try their luck and catch the largest fish in the ocean. Kiribati is famous for many international game fishing records.

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History and cultural influences

Aside from the pristine biodiversity of the islands, Kiribati also has a rich history, which attracts historians, and in particular, those interested in World War II. Evidence suggests that the country itself was inhabited over 3,000 years ago by traveling Micronesians and Samoans. However, more documented history dates from 1892, when these islands were discovered by British troops and subsequently became a British colony in 1915.

During World War II, the islands were a battleground for Japanese and American troops. In 1971 they were granted self-rule by the United Kingdom and finally, complete independence in 1979 under a new name, Kiribati. Remnants of the WWII battlefields can be seen to this day. Artifacts such as tanks, ship wrecks, airplane wrecks, bunkers and defense guns symbolize the bloody war that was once fought on this beautiful island.

Influenced by their colonial history, Kiribatians have adopted English as their official language, but they still preserve their indigenous I-Kiribati. Most of the population identifies with Roman Catholicism, while passing from generation to generation Kiribatian legends such as Uekera, the tree of life.

Their culture is richly influenced by Polynesian traditions and is infused with traditions from the neighboring countries of Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji. Like many Oceanic cultures in the Pacific, daily lives depend on the rise and fall of the tide, which indicates ideal fishing conditions, while coconuts and taro are grown on land. The people rely on the ocean that surrounds them, while family and friends form the crux of their tightly- knit communities. Men and women have versatile roles in the household. Kiribatians couples share the burdens and work of everyday life, such as fishing, childcare, and harvesting crops.

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Communities hold weekly meetings and celebrations together, which are rarely devoid of dancing and songs. The dances often mirror the influences of the environment on their daily lives:

“The movement of the feet, hands and of course the whole body imitates the movement of the frigate birds while walking and flf ying. The costumes are made out of local materials. The frigate bird symbolizes many important things in the traditional living context of the I-Kiribati. It provides navigation to f shermen while lost at sea, provides weather information for the people and also gives a sign of peace and harmony.”

So whether you are a historian, fisherman, biologist, or simply a tourist looking to find an escape into a new world—Kiribati is a country unlike any other. With its rich culture and past, it welcomes tourists to come explore and vacation in this unique country, far off in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, away from the worries of their everyday lives.