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Tarawa is part of the Gilbert Islands
Map of the Tarawa atoll
Tarawa and its southern neighbor Maiana from space (1998).

Tarawa is an atoll in the central Pacific Ocean, previously the capital of the former British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. It is the location of the capital of the Republic of Kiribati, South Tarawa. The island is best known by outsiders as being the site of the Battle of Tarawa during World War II.



Tarawa consists of around 24 larger islets, of which at least eight are inhabited. The largest islet (South Tarawa) extends from Bonriki (southeast corner of the atoll) along the entire south side but Betio of the lagoon to Bairiki. A causeway, called the "Japanese causeway", now connects Bairiki to Betio. The largest town, Bikenibeu, and the only airport on Tarawa, Bonriki International Airport, are on South Tarawa. Tarawa is located at approximately latitude 1°22'47" N, longitude 173°09'06" E (Bonriki Airport).



Towns and villages


The population as of 1990 was 28,802. The population is mostly Gilbertese (Micronesian). This probably exceeds the carrying capacity of the islands and is maintained at its current level without starvation principally due to foreign aid, largely from the United Kingdom, Japan and New Zealand.


Tarawa atoll has three administrative subdivisions:

  • Teinainano Urban Council (or TUC), from Bairiki to Bonriki, known in English as South Tarawa, the capital of the Republic of Kiribati;
  • Betio Town Council (or BTC), on Betio Islet;
  • North Tarawa or Tarawa Ieta (all the islets on the east side north of Bonriki).

The main administrative centre for the Republic of Kiribati is located at Bairiki on South Tarawa. The Parliament meets on Ambo islet and some administration offices are on Betio Islet and in Bikenibeu and one is located on Kiritimati.


Japanese World War II Defenses on Tarawa

Thomas Gilbert, captain of the East India Company vessel Charlotte, was the first European to describe Tarawa, arriving on June 20 1788.[1] Gilbert's 1788 sketches survive to the present.

During World War II, Tarawa was occupied by the Japanese, and beginning on November 20, 1943 it was the scene of the bloody Battle of Tarawa. On that day United States Marines landed on Tarawa and suffered heavy losses from Japanese soldiers occupying entrenched positions on the atoll. The Marines secured the island after 76 hours of intense fighting with around 6,000 dead in total from both sides together.


Betio Islet includes the main port through which copra and pearl shell are exported.

The currency of Kiribati is the Australian dollar.

In popular culture


  • Tarawa is the site of a teachers' training college and a marine training school, as well as an international airport.
  • USS Tarawa is the name of the first LHA-class amphibious assault ship.


  1. ^ Samuel Eliot Morison (1944-05-22). "The Gilberts & Marshalls: A distinguished historian recalls the past of two recently captured pacific groups". Life magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-14. "Being now abreast of this island, the extremity ending in a beautiful clump of trees, I hauled up to look at the bay. It appeared to be safe and commodious, sheltered by a long reef running parallel with the island, with two large inlets into the bay. The reef is about 3/4 of a mile from the beach, and has several small islands which appear like flower pots."  

External links

Coordinates: 1°25′N 173°02′E / 1.417°N 173.033°E / 1.417; 173.033


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