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Kiribati

Resources

Geography

Geographic description

Kiribati is located in Micronesia in the central Pacific Ocean, about 4 000 km southwest of Hawaii. It consists of 33 coral islands in three island groups; the Gilberts, the Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands. Twenty-one are inhabited. Kiribati has a total land area of 811 km2, more than half in one island, Kiritimati Atoll (also known as Christmas Island). The islands extend about 3900 km from east to west, crossing the International Date Line, and about 2 100 km north to south, straddling the equator. They encompass over 3 million of km2 of ocean.

All of the islands are atolls except for the island of Banaba (also known as Ocean Island) in the Gilberts. The sandy, infertile soils of the atolls limit natural and introduced vegetation.

Kiribati has a warm, humid, tropical oceanic climate, with average temperatures in the upper 20s C. Annual rainfall, most of which falls between October and March, varies from about 3 000 mm in the northern islands to 1 000 mm or less in the southern islands.

Forest cover

Description of the natural woody vegetation

The Republic of Kiribati is comprised of many low coral atolls and several raised limestone islands astride the equator. Kiribati includes the Gilbert Islands, Banaba and Phoenix Islands, many of which have been extensively exploited by strip-mining for phosphate. Rainfall is variable but highest in the northern (Gilbert) islands. Remnants of Tournefortia .argentea and Pisonia grandis forests form small groves on some islands, where they were once dominant. The following description of vegetation types is derived from Mueller-Dombois and Fosberg (1998).

Natural Forests

Closed Broadleaved Forest
Mangrove Forests

Mangroves occur in shallow parts of lagoons and are dominated by Rhizophora mucronata, Bruguiera gymnorrhiza, Sonneratia alba and Lumnitzera littorea.

Inland Forest

Closed forests of Pisonia grandis, Hernandia nymphaeifolia, and Neisosperma oppositifolia are present in wetter sites and in drier sites on larger islands dominated by Calophyllum inophyllum.

Other wooded land

Shrubs
Littoral Scrub

Strand vegetation of Tournefortia argentea, Pandanus tectorius, Guettarda speciosa, and Scaevola taccadal occurs on seaward beach ridges extending into more open coconut groves.

Forest Fallow
Tree Gardens

Typical agroforestry trees such as breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), coconut palms (Cocos nucifera), mango (Mangifera indica) and screwpine (Pandanus tectorius) along with many subsidiary herbs, fill most arable land.

References

Mueller-Dombois, D. and F. R. Fosberg 1998. Vegetation of the tropical Pacific islands. Springer-Verlag, New York. 733 pp.

Information on forest assessments

Area of forest cover

Table 1 - Bibliographic references

Country

Kiribati

Title

Country Report, Kiribati (APFC, Feb. 1998)

Author

Manate Tenang, Chief Agricultural Officer

Year

1998

Source

National Report

Date of consult.

 

Location

(of publication)

FRA Pacific Islands Country Report

Description of source

(including type of source, overall quality assessment and utility for FRA 2000)

The source has limited utility, except that it notes “No thorough study has been carried out on the land use, especially on vegetation cover”, and study on the vegetation cover of the country has never been carried out, and figures available to date are those from the 1970’s”.

Other sources:

Thaman and Whistler (1995). Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Tuvalu: A review of uses and status of trees and forests in land use systems with recommendations for future actions. RAS/92/T04. FAO, Rome.

Pacific Island Vegetation Descriptions prepared by the Bishop Museum, Hawaii.

Information content (check one or more topics as appropriate)

Natural Forest

X

 

Protected areas

 

Plantations

X

 

Biodiversity

 

Other wooded land

X

 

Forest ownership

 

Forest area change

   

Wood supply potential

 

Total volume

   

Non-wood forest products

 

Total biomass

   

Trees outside forest

 

Commercial volume

   

Forest fires

 

Name of reviewer: Chris Brown

Plantations

Gross estimated area: n.a. Annual planting: n.a.

Species group

Gross estimated area

Purpose

(%)

Ownership (%)

ha

%

Public

Private

Others

Casuarina spp.

   

Industrial

n.a.

n.a.

   
   

n.a.

Non-Industrial

n.a.

n.a.

   

Casuarina spp. C. equisetifolia

Explanatory note on 2000 estimates

Several sources note that species such as Casuarina equisetifolia are planted as windbreaks and as a source of fuelwood and timber. These are referred to as scattered plantings (farmland trees) and no reference is made to any area of forest plantation.

APCC (1997) gives coconut plantation areas by year between 1993 and 1996, it is supposed to be the same with that of 1996.

References

APCC 1997. Coconut statistical yearbook 1997, by Asian and Pacific Coconut Community

Brown, C. 1997. Regional study — the South Pacific. Asia-pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study, Working Paper No. APFSOS/WP/01. FAO, Rome.

Tenang, M. 1998: Country Report – Kiribati: Heads of Forestry Meeting, Nadi, Fiji; 21-25 September 1998.

Tenang, M. 1996: Country Report – Kiribati: Heads of Forestry Meeting, Port Vila, Vanuatu; 23-28 September 1996.

Thaman, R. and Whistler W. 1995: Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, and Tuvalu: A review of the uses and status of trees and forests in land use systems with recommendations for future actions: Project RAS/92/T04, FAO.

Mangroves

Mangroves occur in shallow parts of lagoons and are dominated by Rhizophora mucronata, Bruguiera gymnorrhiza, Sonneratia alba and Lumnitzera littorea.

References

Mueller-Dombois, D. and F. R. Fosberg 1998. Vegetation of the tropical Pacific islands. Springer-Verlag, New York. 733 pp.

Forest management

Kiribati lies in the dry equatorial oceanic climate zone. Rainfall is variable across the islands with drought years on the driest islands sometimes yielding as little as 200mm of rain in a year. The annual averages across the islands of Kiribati ranges from 700mm to 4000mm. Consequently rainfall, or the lack of it, is a major determinant of forest viability in Kiribati. Almost none of the islands have surface fresh-water. Kiribati's atoll soils, derived from coral limestones, are shallow, alkaline, coarse textured and lacking in nutrients. Thaman and Whistler (1995) describe them as being amongst the poorest in the world.

Despite these limitations Kiribati has developed a quite sophisticated and intensive agro-forestry system based on coconut, breadfruit, bananas pandanus and native figs. The system tends to represent a natural forest rather than plantation since the trees occur spontaneously, in a variety of different patterns and ages. Coconut is by far the dominant species. There is virtually no formal forestry activity although a number of species have been trialled for windbreaks, coastal protection and fuelwood or timber production. Kiribati unsuccessfully trialled a milling scheme for senile coconut palms in the mid-1980s. Costs of maintenance made the scheme uneconomic.

Thaman, R. R and Whistler, W A 1995. Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Tuvalu: a review of uses and status of trees and forests in landuse systems with recommendations for future actions; Project RAS/92/T04; FAO.

Contribution of the forestry sector to the country’s economy

There is no forest sector per se in Kiribati but agroforestry contributes to the country's economy.

In 2000 the Agroforestry Division introduced two new trees to Kiribati. Bamboo and pine trees were introduced in February and April, respectively, to provide raw materials for use in fishing rods, furniture, food and wood used for building. This will, of course, reduce expense of imported timbers.

Programmes to prevent the killing of trees either by pests or natural disasters contribute to the sustainability of natural resources. The introduction of certain predators to the country, such as ladybird beetles (te tabakea) to destroy mealybugs, is a good example of these conservation programmes.

Status and trends in forest management

Agroforestry management in Kiribati is one of conserving the existing vegetation and the introduction of new species. The introduction of new species is decided on the basis that they will not become weeds but they will be of help to the economy of the country. The plan is to seek out more of the valuable trees that will grow in our environment.

Forest Policy and Legislation

Families or individuals own most of the land. The state and the churches own portions of the land. In the northern islands of Butaritari and Makin, the Island Council owns part of the land. In the Phoenix and Line groups the State or the church owns almost all the land. In whatever cases, the town and island councils still have power over certain parts of the land. As Manate stated "Under the Local Government Act 1984, town and island councils are given the power to initiate by-laws to regulate the establishing and controlling of trees nurseries, forests and woodlands and selling their produce, regulating areas and methods of planting and types of crops and trees and the destruction of vegetation along roads or in public places”.

Institution and organizations

The Agricultural Division is located in the Ministry of Natural Resources Development. The main office is in Tarawa, the capital. The office has two officers who are assisted by twelve agricultural assistants based on twelve different islands. Other organizations assisting the agroforestry sector include the Ministry of Environment and Social Welfare, the Foundation for the people of the South Pacific and the Healers of Kiribati Association.

Key issues and concerns

Some of the key issues include providing Kiribati’s people with adequate food and building materials. Both conserving existing resources and planting more trees and plants will help achieve this. For a better diet people are encouraged and trained on how to produce more on their lands. Giving people free seeds and seedlings and training workshops are some of the parts of the programme. But on the other hand there are still concerns and constraints such as poor porous and too alkaline soil, a limited number of crops and vegetables that will grow in our environment, land tenure problems, drought (especially in southern Kiribati) and the awareness of the people of the importance of conservation programmes, training workshops and so forth.

Future outlook for the forestry sector

The agroforestry sector needs more trained staff. Of the fourteen agroforestry and agricultural officers, two are qualified in the field of agroforestry. The other twelve have general knowledge and skills in agricultural science. An increase in trained agroforestry staff is vital to serve the rapidly population and decrease the destruction of plants and trees. Material resources such as tools, equipment and training materials are some of the thing that are needed. The Agroforestry Division should have more qualified officers. Its office should have a laboratory that could be used for research and experiments to improve agricultural development.

Protected areas

Area Name

Type of area

IUCN Cat.

Size (ha)

Birnie Island

Wildlife Sanctuary

III

20

Cook Islet Closed Area (Kiritimati WS)

Closed Area

Ia

3

Kiritimati

Wildlife Sanctuary

UA

Malden Island (Closed Area)

Wildlife Sanctuary

III

3930

McKean Island

Wildlife Sanctuary

III

57

Motu Tabu Islet Closed Area (Kiritimat

Closed Area

Ia

1

Motu Upua Closed Area

Closed Area

Ia

4

Ngaontetaake Islet Closed Area (Kiriti

Closed Area

Ia

2

North-west Point Closed Area (Kiritima

Closed Area

DE

 

Phoenix Island (Rawaki)

Wildlife Sanctuary

III

6500

Starbuck (Closed Area)

Wildlife Sanctuary

III

16200

Vostock Island

Wildlife Sanctuary

III

24

Policy and legislation

In 1980 the Government of Kiribati published a statement of its policy concerning nature conservation in the Line and Phoenix Islands. This recognised the need to integrate conservation and development with respect to the islands’ natural resources. The role of conservation was defined in terms of providing for the present and future social and economic needs of the country (Garnett 1983).

The legal basis for nature conservation is the Wildlife Conservation Ordinance (1975), amended in 1979. Under the new Ordinance, the 1938 Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony Wild Birds Protection Ordinance was repealed and the status of bird sanctuaries was changed to wildlife sanctuaries. The 1975 Ordinance makes, inter alia, the following provisions. First, all 31 regularly occurring bird species, and their nests and eggs, are fully protected throughout Kiribati. All turtles are fully protected on land, although it is not clear from the legislation whether protection extends to marine areas. Secondly, under Section 8(1), wildlife sanctuaries may be declared and closed areas may be declared within such wildlife sanctuaries. Thirdly, Section 11 provides wildlife wardens with powers of search and arrest.

This current legislation is weak, because measures for the protection of vegetation, prohibiting the introduction of plants and animals, preventing fire, removal of soil, and dumping of refuse, and the control of vehicles are lacking. In particular, there is a lack of effective protection for wildlife sanctuaries, within which it is possible to clear vegetation without contravening the law. It would seem that under current legislation the only areas adequately protected are those additionally designated as closed areas.

It should be noted that, although Article 14(1) of the Constitution guarantees freedom of movement, restrictions required in the interests of environmental conservation are deemed not to be in contravention of the Article.

Prior to contact with Europeans, landowners in Kiribati held tenure of reefs and lagoons adjacent to their lands and had exclusive rights to fisheries and passage. Most land, particularly in the South Gilberts, was owned by groups of extended families (utu) who lived in small, scattered hamlets (kaainga), although in the northern atolls the ruling king had control of a large area of land, reefs and lagoons, and dispensed fishing rights to the various clans in the domain. In the late 19th century this system began to break down: under British colonial rule, sea tenure per se was not recognised, although there was an attempt to modify traditional fishing rights and the government did recognise tenure of fish weirs, reclaimed areas, fish ponds and other accretions (Zann 1985). However, there are still a number of laws and customs regulating different aspects of fishing activities on many of the atolls. These are frequently formulated and applied by individual Island Councils.

International activities

Kiribati is not yet party to any of the international conventions or programmes that directly promote the conservation of natural areas, namely the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention), UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme and the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention).

At a regional level, Kiribati has not ratified the Convention on the Conservation of Nature in the South Pacific, 1976. Known as the Apia Convention, it entered into force during 1990. The Convention is coordinated by the South Pacific Commission and represents the first attempt within the region to cooperate on environmental matters. Among other measures, it encourages the creation of protected areas to preserve indigenous flora and fauna.

Kiribati is party to the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) but has not ratified the Convention for the Protection of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region, 1986 (SPREP Convention). The Convention entered into force during August 1990. Article 14 calls upon the parties to take all appropriate measures to protect rare or fragile ecosystems and threatened or endangered flora and fauna through the establishment of protected areas and the regulation of activities likely to have an adverse effect on the species, ecosystems and biological processes being protected. However, as this provision only applies to the Convention area, which by definition is open ocean, it is most likely to assist with the establishment of marine reserves and the conservation of marine species.

Other international and regional conventions concerning environmental protection to which Kiribati is party are reviewed by Venkatesh et al. (1983).

Administration and management

The Wildlife Conservation Unit, established in 1977 under the Ministry of the Line and Phoenix Islands and based on Kiritimati, is the only government division responsible for conservation management in the Line and Phoenix Islands (Garnett 1983). In 1985 the Unit comprised one wildlife warden and two assistants. The bulk of the Unit’s work is on Kiritimati; the other sanctuaries being protected by their remoteness (SPREP 1985a). The Unit has as its principal responsibilities enforcement of the Wildlife Conservation Ordinance, education/public awareness, survey and research, advice to governments, control of introduced species, and tourism, though it is not the only agency concerned in each of these activities. There is no administrative body responsible for conservation in the Gilbert Islands.

Systems review

The Republic of Kiribati comprises all the Gilbert and Phoenix Islands, eight of the eleven Line Islands (the other three, Jarvis, Palmyra and Kingman Reef being dependencies of the USA) and Banaba (Ocean Island), lying approximately between longitudes 169E and 147W and latitudes 5N and 12S. The islands extend nearly 5,000km from east to west and straddle both the Equator and the International Date Line. All the islands are low-lying coral atolls (UNEP/IUCN 1988), rising to no more than 3-4m above mean sea level, with the exception of Banaba, which is a raised reef.

Most of the natural vegetation of the larger islands has been replaced by coconut plantations, breadfruit and Pandanus spp. (Davis et al. 1986). However, considerable ecological diversity remains on the different islands, largely because they fall within a zone of steep rainfall gradients. Thus, Kiritimati has tracts of open scrub and grassland, whilst Teraina, 380km to the north-west, has a freshwater lake surrounded by peat bogs and woodland rich in epiphytes and fern undergrowth (Perry, 1980). There is relatively little information on the marine environment, although reefs at Tabuaeran, Teraina, Tarawa and Onotoa have been described (UNEP/IUCN 1988).

The current protected areas network comprises wildlife sanctuaries covering the whole of three of the Phoenix Islands and four of the Line Islands. In addition, closed areas have been established within Kiritimati Wildlife Sanctuary, and covering all of Malden and Starbuck islands. There are no protected areas in the Gilbert Islands.

Most habitats found in Kiribati are represented in the protected areas system, although five are omitted: Guettarda forest; Pemphis acidula scrub; freshwater marsh; freshwater lake; and brackish lagoon. The existing network includes some of the most important sea bird colonies in the Pacific (Hay 1986).

The most profound threat, both to protected areas and the country as a whole, lies in the putative rise in sea levels, caused by global climatic warming. This could lead to salinisation of freshwater aquifers, increased erosion and possibly inundation rendering the country uninhabitable (Pernetta 1988). Alien species introduced by man affect all islands in the Line Group, with the exception of Vostok Island. Feral cats, which may number up to 2,000 on Kiritimati, have driven 10 or 11 bird species (out of 18) to nest only on isolated islets (Perry, 1980). Cats appear to be increasing in numbers, and bird populations are also threatened by poaching, especially red-tailed tropic bird Phaethon rubricauda, red-footed booby Sula sula and masked booby Sula dactylatra. Many new vehicles have been brought to the island, facilitating much greater human access to the bird colonies (E.A. Schreiber, pers. comm., 1989). Exotic plant species have been extensively introduced. Although the majority may have no effect on sea birds, a few may be deleterious. Other natural threats include periodic droughts (Dahl 1986) and climatic perturbations such as the El Nio Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The latter is believed responsible for the precipitous decline in sea bird populations on Kiritimati in 1982-83 (Schreiber and Schreiber, 1984). The 1986-1987 ENSO set back the recovery of bird populations from the 1982-1983 ENSO (E.A. Schreiber, pers. comm., 1989)

An Action Strategy for Protected Areas in the South Pacific Region (SPREP 1985b) has been developed. The principal goals of the strategy cover conservation education, conservation policy development, establishment of protected areas, protected area management and regional and international cooperation. Priority recommendations for Kiribati are as follows: formulate a national conservation strategy; and implement the Feral Animal Eradication Programme on Kiritimati. Proposals for a cat eradication programme were prepared by the Wildlife Conservation Unit in 1983 in conjunction with the New Zealand Wildlife Service (SPREP 1985a). However, this has not yet been implemented (UNEP/IUCN 1988).

Dahl (1980) recommends both the upgrading of the existing network and the establishment of new reserves, to include appropriate samples of atoll, forest, marine and lagoon environments. This would entail a communication link and surveillance centre on Kanton, retaining the extant reserves on Birnie, McKean and Rawaki (Phoenix) and creating new sites on Enderbury, Orona and possibly Manra. Most of the Line Islands, in particular Caroline and Malden, are considered candidates for reserve status, especially if existing predators can be controlled. Flint, Caroline, Kanton and Enderbury require protection as turtle breeding areas. The bogs, and possibly the lake on Tabuaeran, including adequate areas of Polynesian warbler habitat, should be protected, in addition to seabird breeding areas (Dahl, 1980).

Garnett (1983) makes a comprehensive set of recommendations, principally covering Kiritimati, which addresses aspects of legislation, development and land use planning, and conservation management. Specific recommendations include: amending Section 8 of the 1975 Wildlife Conservation Ordinance to give adequate protection to important ecosystems; gazetting Enderbury Island as a wildlife sanctuary and closed area; upgrading Birnie, McKean, Rawaki and Vostok islands to closed area status; and designating specific areas on Kiritimati as wildlife sanctuaries and closed areas, as opposed to the whole island as is currently the case (Garnett 1983).

Dahl (1986) notes that there are no protected areas in the Gilbert Islands and suggests that small forested islands with seabird rookeries on Butaritari and Nonouti might be considered for reserves under local management. Marine reserves may be required for fisheries management. The principal omissions from the protected areas systems are bogs in the Line and Phoenix Islands and other natural habitats on Teraina (Dahl 1986).

References

Dahl, A.L. 1980. Regional ecosystems survey of the South Pacific area. SPC/IUCN Technical Paper 179. South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 99 pp.

Dahl, A.L. 1986. Review of the protected areas system in Oceania. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK/UNEP, Nairobi, Kenya. 328 pp.

Davis, S.D., Droop, S.J.M., Gregerson, P., Henson, L., Leon, C.J., Lamlein Villa-Lobos, J., Synge, H. and Zantovska, J. 1986. Plants in danger: what do we know? IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. 488 pp.

Douglas, G. 1969. Checklist of Pacific Oceanic Islands. Micronesica 5(2): 327-463.

Fosberg, F.R. 1953. Vegetation of central Pacific atolls. Atoll Research Bulletin 23: 1-26. (Unseen)

Garnett, M.C. 1983. A management plan for nature conservation in the Line and Phoenix Islands. Two volumes. Unpublished. 436 pp.

Hay, R. 1986. Bird conservation in the Pacific Islands. ICBP Study Report No. 7. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, UK. 102 pp.

Pernetta, J.C. 1988. Projected climate change and sea level rise: a relative impact rating for countries of the South Pacific Basin. In: MEDU joint meeting of the task team on the implications of climatic change in the Mediterranean. Split, Yugoslavia, 3-7 October. Pp. 1-11.

Paxton, J. (Ed.). 1990. The Statesman’s yearbook. 127th Edition. The Macmillan Press Ltd, London. 1690 pp.

Perry, R. 1980. Wildlife Conservation in the Line Islands, Republic of Kiribati (formerly Gilbert Islands). Environmental Conservation 7: 311-318.

Schreiber, R.W. and Schreiber, E.A. 1984. Central Pacific seabirds and the El Nio Southern Oscillation: 1982-1983 perspectives. Science 225: 713-716.

SPREP 1985a). Kiribati. In: Thomas, P.E.J. (Ed.), Report of the Third South Pacific National Parks and Reserves Conference. Volume III. Country reviews. South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. Pp. 115-124.

SPREP 1985b. Action strategy for protected areas in the South Pacific Region. South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 24 pp.

UNEP/IUCN 1988. Coral reefs of the world. Volume 3. Central and Western Pacific. UNEP Regional Seas Directories and Bibliographies. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK/UNEP, Nairobi, Kenya. 378 pp.

Venkatesh, S., Va’ai, S. and Pulea, M. 1983. An overview of environmental legislation in the South Pacific countries. SPREP Topic Review No. 13. South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 63 pp.

Zann, L.P. 1985. Traditional management and conservation of fisheries in Kiribati and Tuvalu atolls. In: Ruddle, K. and Johannes, R.E. (Eds.), The traditional knowledge and management of coastal systems in Asia and the Pacific. UNESCO/ROSTEA, Jakarta. Pp. 53-77.

Forest products production, trade and consumption

Products

No information.

Trade(1998)

   

Import

Export

Production

Consumption

 

Units

Quantity

$US
(x1000)

Quantity

$US
(x1000)

Quantity

Quantity

Sawnwood

Cum

2195

639

0

0

0

2195

Sawnwood (C)

Cum

2058

585

0

0

0

2058

Sawnwood (NC)

Cum

137

54

0

0

0

137

Wood-Based Panels

Cum

56

49

0

0

0

56

Veneer Sheets

Cum

2

1

0

0

0

2

Plywood

Cum

54

48

0

0

0

54

Particle Board

Cum

0

0

0

0

0

0

Fibreboard

Cum

0

0

0

0

0

0

Paper+Paperboard

Mt

48

73

0

0

0

48

Newsprint

Mt

4

2

0

0

0

4

Printing+Writing Paper

Mt

43

70

0

0

0

43

Other Paper+Paperboard

Mt

1

1

0

0

0

1

Roundwood

Cum

127

8

0

0

0

127

Industrial Roundwood

Cum

6

2

0

0

0

6

Wood Fuel

Cum

121

6

0

0

0

121


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