Scuba Diving Kiribati
(Kiritimati aka Christmas Island)
Kiribati is the home to one of the South Pacific’s largest marine reserves. Covering nearly 158,000 square miles of mostly open Pacific waters. It contains over 500 species of fish and nearly 20 different species of seabirds.
The Christmas island got its names from its discovery by Capt. James Cook on Christmas Eve in 1777. Christmas became Kiritimati (pronounced roughly “kee-rees-mass”) in the local Gilbertese language. Because of its position just west of the International Date Line, Kiritimati is the first inhabited island to begin each new day and year, and attracted a bit of Y2K tourism to celebrate that.
Miles of golden and white-sand beaches, numerous wildlife sanctuaries, beautiful crystal-clear turquoise lagoons, amazing marine life, extensive coral reefs, as well as eternal sunshine are what make Kiribati a true tropical paradise
Kiribati is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean. It comprises 32 atolls and one raised coral island, straddling the equator. Except for the isolated Banaba (Ocean Island), all the main islands are in one of three groups: the Gilbert Islands, the Line Islands (including Christmas Island) and the Phoenix Islands. It is located north of Fiji and Tahiti and southwest of Hawaii.
Kiribati’s recent colonial and WWII history has had little impact on the outer islands, where the people subsist on coconuts, breadfruit and fish as they have done for centuries. Even on the main island, Tarawa, most locals live in traditional raised thatched huts.
Most atolls surround turquoise lagoons and barely rise above the surrounding ocean, so it’s rare to be out of the sight and sound of the sea.
All of the landmasses of the nation are low lying. Kiribati has recently been newsworthy as the land is being inundated by the rising sea levels. It is expected that the entire nation will need to relocate elsewhere quite soon as the islands disappear beneath the sea.
SCUBA DIVING KIRIBATI
Kiribati is also the home to one of the South Pacific’s largest marine reserves. The Phoenix Island Protected Area covers nearly 158,000 square miles of mostly open Pacific waters. It contains over 500 species of fish and nearly 20 different species of seabirds.
The islands are surrounded by colorful coral reefs that teem with exotic and abundant marine life, and even some relics from the fierce fighting that occurred on Tarawa and the surrounding islands during World War II. Diving in Kiribati can expose scuba enthusiasts to exotic marine life and diverse habitat. Because of the abundance of shallow waters around the atolls, much of the diving in Kiribati originates from shore or outrigger canoes. Motorized boats also take divers farther offshore. The area contains more than 200 species of coral and 500 fish species, in addition to at least 18 marine mammals.
HIGHLIGHT DIVE AREAS
The main bases of scuba diving operations for Kiribati are on Kiritimati (Christmas Island) and Tarawa.
Not surprisingly, these are the two islands serviced directly by inbound flights to the republic. As you would expect in such a remote location, there are not many operators, but they do offer full dive certification courses and cater to experienced and non-experienced divers alike.
Tarawa was the scene of a major battle during World War II. Several areas of the lagoon were landing zones for U S troops and the waters are still full of war material. Diving the landing zones and related sunken ships and landing craft will occupy hours of underwater time for war relic underwater enthusiasts. Beyond the war relics lay beautiful corals and spectacular marine life.
Christmas Island – the largest coral atoll in the world and has been called “the last untouched reef in the world”. Visibility is between 100 and 150 feet (30 and 45 meters) and the size and number of pelagic life will amaze even the most seasoned diver. Expect to see diverse marine species including Dragon Moray, Flame Angelfish, Manta, and Eagle Rays, Spinner Dolphins, turtles and fabulously colored corals.
Christmas Island is surrounded by a narrow tropical reef which plunges into a bottomless abyss. This makes it the perfect destination for scuba diving trips! This reef is laced with many unspoiled corals and abundant species of marine life. The northern coast in particular boasts some of the most unspoiled corals in the world such as Acropora and plate corals which play host to a wide variety of small tropical species such as surgeon fish, wrasse, butterfly fish, gobies, anemones, eels and many others which are a photographers delight.
You could be graced with the presence of the majestic whaleshark. An encounter with one of these gentle giants who often visit any time between November and April is an experience on your scuba diving trip that you don’t want to miss!!
Line Islands Manta Ray Project: Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Line Islands are a chain of eleven atolls spread out over almost 2,400 km. Three islands are territories of the United States, while the remaining eight belong to the nearby island nation of the Republic of Kiribati. The Kiribati natives in the Line Islands inhabit only three of their eight islands and have a population under 9,000 with about half of the people living on Christmas Island. This mix of low human occupancy and remote location has attributed to relative anonymity and a thriving marine ecosystem.
HIGHLIGHT DIVE SITES
Diving is beautiful throughout Kiribati, but is still so informal and undeveloped that most dive sites have not been named. It is most usual for dives to be done in an area, rather than at a specifically named site. Here are some descriptions and comments of a few of those areas on Kiritimati (Christmas Island).
“The dive sites are pleasant and pristine. Lots of hard coral and many small fish which makes for a lovely underwater view. Visibility is usually 30 metres but if there’s rain or tides unfavorable that can drop to 10-15 meter vis. Water is warm – around 28°C, I didn’t need a wetsuit. You definitely need a hat, sunscreen and covering when above the waterline. Most dives were 18m or less. The dive to Boland Caves went to 25m. Surface intervals can be enlivened with some fishing for tuna or trevally (catch and release) or, if you’re lucky, some Spinner dolphins will put on a show. Look out for flying fish that can travel an amazing distance across the wave tops.”
“We saw a total of 9 Manta Rays during our stay. Four of those were at the surface feeding and we watched them from the boat. We saw a squadron of 5 Eagle Rays on one dive and a couple others throughout the week. There were good size Napolean Wrasse on most dives. There were many different species of eels… Green Morays, Spotted, White Face, Snow Flake, Masked, Dragon and others. Lots of Lion Fish. Every dive had countless numbers of tropical fish; Fusilers, several types of Butterfly fish and Angel Fish including the Emporer, Flame and Blue Reticulated. We saw Octopus, a few White Tip, Black Tip and Nurse Sharks, Turtles and too many Dolphin to count(Spinners & Bottlenose). We saw schools Trevally on most dives, lots of 2-3′ Milkfish, a few large Yellow Finned Tuna and a couple Long Nose Hawk Fish. The coral was in good shape. Mostly hard coral and a large variety; Plate, Lettuce, Brain, Finger and more.”
“The numbers of small to medium tropical fish abound in Kiribati. On many or the reefs I saw two to three times the number of tropical fish than I have seen in Palau. You will see Sturgeonfish, Peacock Flounders, Nudibranches, Giant Barracudas, Spotted eagle rays, Snappers (many to choose from), Moorish idols, Trevally’s, Mantas, Octopus, Dolphins, Occasional sharks etc. etc. I did not get to see the all the big stuff….They were out in the Poland area or Bay of Wrecks. That is where the Big Wrasse and the Groupers are.”
DIVE SEASON: Year around. The water temperature and the air temperature are nearly equal. Typhoons can occur at any time but more usually between November and March. From December through April, minke whales, killer whales and dolphins are routinely spotted. Between November and April there is a good chance to see Whalesharks.
WEATHER: Tropical marine, hot and humid moderated by trade winds. Typhoons can occur at any time but usually between November and March. Occasional tornadoes.
VISIBILITY: Typically ranges from 20 to 150 feet (6-45M) depending upon tidal flows.
WATER TEMPERATURE: 82F (28C) year around.
SKILL LEVELS: Conditions tend to be gentle and appropriate for all diver experience levels. Currents flow in some locations and dive sites.
MARINE LIFE: Playful spinner dolphins are a local favorite for their friendly interactions and divers also can expect to see dragon morays, flame angelfish, manta and eagle rays, as well as turtles. Several species of whales may appear from December through April.
CLIMATE: Temperatures are stable throughout the years with highs at 88F (31C) and lows from 76-78F (25C). The climate is pleasant from April to October, with predominant northeastern winds From November to March, western gales bring rain and occasional hurricanes.
Precipitation varies significantly between islands. For example, the annual average is 3,000 mm (120 in) in the north and 500 mm (20 in) in the south of the Gilbert Islands. Most of these islands are in the dry belt of the equatorial oceanic climatic zone and experience prolonged droughts.
LANGUAGE: The people of Kiribati speak an Oceanic language called “Gilbertese”. Although English is also an official language, it is not used very often outside the island capital of Tarawa.
ELECTRICITY: Electricity is 240 volt, 50 Hz.
CURRENCY & CREDIT CARDS: Kiribati’s currency is the Australian dollar, although some transactions on Christmas Island are in US dollars. Credit cards are accepted only by the Otintaai Hotel, Toyota rental cars and Tobaraoi travel agency on Tarawa; there’s a fee charged. Credit cards are not accepted on Christmas Island, and prices are slightly higher there than elsewhere in Kiribati.
GRATUITIES: Tipping is not part of the culture of Kiribati.
PHONE & INTERNET SERVICE: Country code: 686. Outgoing international code: 0. Most international calls from Kiribati have to go through the operator. Internet: ISPs include VPM Internet Services. There are currently no Internet cafes in Kiribati.
VISA & PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS: All visitors to Kiribati must be in possession of a valid passport and onward ticket and must have proof of sufficient funds to support themselves while staying in the country. Visas are only required for a few countries with a maximum stay of 28 days. However, If you live in the United States, you are required to have a visa. If you are flying through Honolulu, you can secure one at the check in counter on the morning of your departure for Christmas Island.
CUSTOMS: The following may be brought into Kiribati duty free: 1 litre of spirits and 1 litre of wine (21+), plus 200 cigarettes or 250 grams of tobacco or cigars
DEPARTURE TAX: $20 Australian Dollar
GETTING THERE: Only Tarawa and Christmas Island are serviced by international flights. The flight to Kiribati is usually operated by Air Nauru but things are in flux since its only plane was repossessed. At the time of writing Air Pacific was running a weekly return flight from Nadi to Tarawa but this may be changed.
Air Pacific has a return weekly service between Nadi, Fiji, and Honolulu via Christmas Island.
Air Kiribati flies to most outer Gilberts at least once a week. Air Kiribati’s planes are regularly grounded for lack of fuel or encounter some other trouble, so it’s wise to allow a bit of extra time if you’re planning a visit to one of the outer islands.
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