© Gioppi | Dreamstime.com – Buota Ferry Photo
Like scattered fragments of paradise, this island nation is spread out over the central tropical Pacific Ocean. Kiribati, a nation composed of 32 atolls and one raised coral island, is inhabited by Micronesians, who have spoken the same Oceanic language for approximately 4000 years. After many centuries of colonial history, the islands formerly known as the Gilbert Islands gained independence in 1979 and chose the name “Kiribati” for the new state.
Expansive sandy beaches, coconut palms swaying in the ocean breeze, hardly any cars: pictures of the South Sea nation, such as seen advertised on the islands’ tourism website, look promising. However, taking a closer look, the veneer starts to fade. Some of the beaches are so badly contaminated with fecal matter that the rank makes a stay almost unbearable. Waste is another problem. Kiribati is overpopulated. With 13,000 people per square mile, Kiribati’s capital Tarawa has a population density about 5 times larger than Bangladesh. During the last couple of years, Kiribati has seen growing damage from storms and erosion, which is eating away the little land. The reason for both the vanishing of land and the high concentration of people in the capital, is due to global warming. Water expands as it warms. In addition, the oceans have lately received immense quantities of melted ice. Thanks to the effects of global warming, approximately 105,000 citizens of Kiribati, which is one of the lowest lying nations of the world, might soon become refugees and thus release the first mass movement of people fleeing the consequences of climate change.
According to climate experts and scientists, most of Kiribati’s 32 islands will be swallowed by the Ocean before the end of the century or even sooner. Climate change, a term that many of us use to relate to slightly unpleasant weather conditions and disturbing reports about stranded walruses or pole melting, has become a race against time for the people of Kiribati. As their nation will soon start disappearing, they are looking for land. The first neighbor they’ve turned to is Fiji, where the government of Kiribati is rumored to have purchased some land. So far no country has stepped forward in granting the population of Kiribati refugee status on the grounds of climate change. In the meantime, the people of Kiribati as well as their lucrative natural resources, mainly fish and coconuts, are being eyed by international businessmen fighting for financial gain. While the country is paying the price for the passiveness of the rest of world in the face of climate change, Kiribati is taking to exemplary means in protecting fish and the conservation of the sea. The “Phoenix Island Protection Program”, which will go into effect on the 1st of Januray, 2015, will ban commercial fishing in an undersea area the size of California in order to protect the marine life along the coral reefs, most importantly tuna. This is an important symbolic step in protecting the entire oceanic wildlife. Despite the prospective loss of their land, the tiny nation of Kiribati is a pioneer in taking action in conserving one of the last natural environments for endangered fish species.
Kiribati’s president, Anote Tong, does not think his country’s efforts in protecting its natural environment will be in vain even though Kiribati might soon get swallowed by the ocean:
“The land is ours and it remains ours. Whether it goes under water or not. We will make sure that our nation continues to exist. Even if only a small piece of it.”
Hopefully, Kiribati’s efforts will inspire other nations to step forward and help save the rich resources of this planet.
Learn more about Kiribati
Global Warming in Pictures: Kiribati
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