Status and Trends of Biodiversity
The Republic of Kiribati has a total land area of only 822.8 km2. It consists of 33 islands in two main groups, the Gilberts (17) and the Line and Phoenix group (16). The islands are extremely isolated and fragmented, covering an ocean area of 3.5 million km2. Kiribati consists of true atolls, except Banaba, which is a raised limestone island. The marine environment is a critical and strategic resource for Kiribati as it provides the mainstay for subsistence and is most likely its main hope for economic development besides copra and seaweed. The marine fauna includes between 600 and 800 finfish species, but shallow and reef fish are gradually being over-exploited. Apart from a number of land-locked saltwater lagoons and salt pools, there are no surface freshwater resources on Kiribati. The only permanent freshwater resource is groundwater in the form of a "lens" of often slightly brackish freshwater. Soils are among the poorest in the world. With the frequency of bush fires during dry periods, the organic materials are simply turned into ash making the soil even poorer. There is only one endemic vertebrate species, the Line Islands Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus aequinoctialis), and the only mammal (probably an aboriginal introduction) is the Polynesian Rat (Rattus exulans). Most of the seabirds found in Kiribati are migratory, although some find homes in the atolls where they live and breed. Black noddies and white sooty terns are the most common birds. Terrestrial vegetation is limited to coastal strands, mangroves and coastal marshes, remnant stands of inland forest, and, in the case of Banaba, limestone escarpment of pinnacle vegetation.
Kiribati is renowned as being one of the richest countries in cultural and historical resources. One of the most striking aspects of Kiribati legend is its conservation ethic, which ensures a sustainable use of resources. This is based on a traditional scientific knowledge of the environment, the sea, the land and the resources. The old paradigm of traditional technologies of fishing and farming skills help sustain their limited resources. However, with the increasing human population, smallness of the islands, scarcity of resources and little export for foreign exchange, Kiribati is facing a tough time in terms of sustaining and managing its resources and biodiversity.