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Image: Jon Lewis

Fishermen in Bairiki, South Tarawa.

The Republic of Kiribati is made up of 32 atolls and a single coral island. The nation is spread around the equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and its closest neighboring country is Tokelau, which is situated over 440 miles away. The atolls of Kiribati are low-lying, not rising more than a couple of meters above sea level. The coral island, Banaba, has been mined for its phosphate and is deemed highly unsuitable for farming, while water salination has killed many of the coconut trees on the atoll of South Tarawa and has made the soil worthless for crops.


Image: Jon Lewis

Abandoned vehicles litter the ground in Kiribati.

Despite the area’s remoteness, people have been living there for centuries, if not millennia. Micronesians inhabited Kiribati first, but Polynesians and Melanesians later invaded. From 1892 the Kiribati island cluster known as the Gilbert Islands – along with what is now Tuvalu – came under British protection. Then in 1916 they became a crown colony, and they remained under the British until 1971.

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Image: Jon Lewis

People gather at the landing stage in Beru, Southern Gilberts.

During World War II, a bloody conflict was fought on the Kiribati atoll of Tarawa. The November 1943 Battle of Tarawa claimed the lives of almost 1,700 Americans and close to 4,700 Japanese who occupied the Gilbert Islands at the time. Relics of the war – including tanks, destroyed planes and bunkers – still litter Tarawa and Butaritari, while the remains of marines who died in the battle are the subject of excavations to this day.

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