Kiribati: A Modern-Day Atlantis?

Mar 17, 2012 By Deepa Gopal
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The mythological island of Atlantis first surfaced in the dialogs of Plato, the Greek philosopher in 360 BC. Was Atlantis for real? While we may never know, there is a modern story of Atlantis at play in many of the small islands sprinkled across the Pacific Ocean.

The island nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kir-ee-bahs) announced last week that its government is in talks to purchase 6,000 acres (nine square miles) of land in Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island. Why? Rising sea levels have forced many of Kiribati's residents to move inland as encroaching waters have submerged their homes. The new land will be used for farming, and settling people who are at the highest risk. Anote Tong, the country's president has been exploring other options for his country such as building a sea wall and even a floating island. While the latter is very expensive, sea wall is an option for some of the more heavily populated islands.

Where is Kiribati?

Midway in the Pacific Ocean along the International Date Line (IDL) lies a group of 33 atolls and islands, that form the island nation of Kiribati. Kiribati is the only country with the unique distinction -- its islands lies in all the four hemispheres as they straddle both the Equator and the International Date Line! Kiribati was known as Gilbert Island when it was a British colony, until its independence in 1979. 

The low-lying coral atolls that form Kiribati, extend only a few feet above sea level. Unlike an island which is land surrounded by water, atolls are ring shaped lands surrounding a lagoon. Did you know that atolls actually have their beginning from an undersea volcano? The corals that grow along the rim of this undersea volcano rise up high enough to form land, and the central volcano submerges to become a lagoon [see picture]

Are other regions affected?

Scientists claim that the ocean levels have been increasing ever so slightly -- at the rate of 0.1 inch every year, due to climate change and melting glaciers. Since 1880, ocean levels have risen nearly 8 inches.

Many low-lying regions around the world have cause for concern. Islands belonging to Maldives in the Indian Ocean, and Papua New Guinea in the Pacific have lost land or have been completely submerged. Mainlands are not spared either, and in the United States, the coastal areas of Florida, Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey are vulnerable. 

The rising waters are more than just a loss of land in low-lying regions. The salty sea waters affect underground water making it undrinkable, and can potentially affect the salt content of rivers. The impact could be far-reaching with adverse effects on freshwater biodiversity, and a country's economy. It is no wonder that Anote Tong, Kiribati's President has been very vocal in the United Nations climate change conferences.

Time is running out for his people... 

Source: BBC, Wikipedia