Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island, gets its name for the day explorer James Cook visited it, Christmas Eve, December 24, 1777. Kiritimati is the Gilbertese translation of Christmas, the language spoken in the Republic of Kiribati. Kiritimati is part of the Republic of Kiribati (Kirtibati has been independent since 1979, a member of the UN since 1999). Besides its festive name, there is more to understand about this island.
As mentioned before, it’s an island that’s part of the Republic of Kiribati. Kiribati itself is a country located in the Pacific Ocean. Not only is it an island nation, it’s an archipelago nation. A group of islands. This is a country that hovers around the Equator and the 180 degree line. The 180 degree line part will be important later.
Kiritimati is not just any kind of island. This island is a coral atoll, a raised coral atoll at that. This is a coral reef with a crown-like shape, having a lagoon in the middle. In the case of a raised atoll, tectonics help raise an atoll high enough to where the island will not be as suspectible to being washed away. The soil can develop further, and plant life develops further as a result.
Kiritimati has an area of 149.96 square miles (388.39 square kilometres). This makes it the largest coral atoll in the world, in terms of land area. Kiritimati comprises 70 percent of Kiribati’s land area.
Kiritimati has a climatic quirk. In spite of being located in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, it is relatively dry compared to many Pacific islands. This island is located in an equatorial dry zone. Some years it can get as little as 7 inches of rain. Other years it can get at least 30 inches of rain. Low levels of convection.
This island was once claimed by the United States of America in 1856. This was done under the Guano Islands Act. Kiritimati was sought after for the mining of guano (bird feces), used in fertilizer. Very little guano mining actually took place in Kiritimati. One thing to understand is that birds often make stops in islands in the Pacific. With large distances between land, migrating birds will go to those islands for roosting, nesting, and other purposes. Many birds go to Kiritimati for nesting. The frigatebird is on Kiribati’s coat of arms.
The plants an animals on the island are adapted to drought conditions. The main plant life on the island includes low shrubs and grasses. Coconut trees constitute the principle trees on the island. The soil on the island is thin, and rocks found on the island are porous and of carbonate composition. This makes it difficult for moisture to be retained in the soil. The high amount of evaporation makes the environment even more arid. Thus, plants must be adaptable to conditions of drought. Very few animals besides birds and crustaceans live on this island. The remote island location has meant very few native animals on the island. Some lizard species have reached the island on their own. The Polynesian rat has reached the island via seafarers who have sailed to the island.
(Colony of sooty terns in Kiritimati)
Nuclear testing has taken place on Kiritimati during the 1950s and 1960s. This has caused health issues as people living on the island were there when the tests took place. Radiation exposure from these blasts have sickened people as a result.
In 1975, the island of Kiritimati was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary. Because of its status as a wildlife sanctuary, there are several places on the island that are restricted in terms of access. Among the areas that are restricted include the North West Point (breeding ground of the sooty tern). Small scare ecotourism is allowed in certain areas. It is against the law to have a cat that isn’t neutered on Kiritimati. The reason is for environmental protection. Cats would breed and then eat the birds on the island.
(Red-footed boobies in a shrub).
Kiritimati, though relatively large compared to the other islands in Kiribati, has a small population. Kiribati has 110,000 people but Kiritimati accounts for 6,447 residents.
And about the 180 degree line, this is where that line becomes important. International Date Line MOSTLY follows the 180 degree meridian. Kiribati itself hovers around the 180 degree meridian. Kiritimati iself, however, is at 157°24′W. This is about 1,530 miles east of where 180 degrees is. However, in 1995, there was a re-alignment made on the part of the Kiribati government. This put Kiritimati WEST, not east of the International Date Line. Kiritimati’s position west of the IDL (as well as the Line Islands) made the Republic of Kiribati the first country to see the year 2000.
To understand Kiritimati, Christmas Island, this is to be understood. It’s a large, raised coral atoll. It is a major breeding center for birds, especially sea birds. Its plant life is different because it’s drier than other islands in the western/central Pacific region. It was once used as a nuclear weapons testing site. Being an island where many birds came, it was sought after for its guano deposits. Today it is wildlife sanctuary, especially for birds. It is one of the first places to experience the new year.