The atolls are made up of coral rock and have scarce vegetation: the forests cover only 2.7% of the territory; the terrestrial fauna includes birds and a few mammals while the marine fauna includes a great variety of fish. The traditional customs and habits of the residents relating to the disposal of waste in open landfills have led to the pollution of the soil and aquifers, especially in the densely populated Tarawa Atoll. Furthermore, the lower islands are at risk of erosion due to rising ocean levels. The four birdlife reserves, the four naturalistic sanctuaries, the two closed reserves, the marine reserve and the conservation area together represent the protected areas of the country, which cover 1.5% of the territory.
Kiribati’s poor economy, limited by scarcity of resources, weak infrastructure and remoteness from international markets, saw a 50% decline in GDP after the depletion of phosphate deposits in the late 1970s. The country is considered one of the least developed in the world, with a GDP of US $ 137 million and a GDP per capita of US $ 1,372 (2008). § The primary sector is penalized by the scarcity of agricultural land on the islands; agriculture is mainly conducted according to subsistential forms, producing bananas, pandanus, and the fruits of the bread tree and papaya for internal consumption; its only assets of commercial interest are coconuts and copra, which, however, suffered from the scarcity of rainfall and the fall in prices on the market. The production and export of seaweed has also been important since the mid-1980s. The country mainly raises pigs and poultry. Food needs cannot be met: therefore rice, wheat and meat have to be imported. Fishing is of greater importance: practiced with backward means, it has a substantial economic weight due to the sale of the relative licenses to foreign (mainly Japanese) fleets.
According to allcountrylist, the industrial activities, which contribute for just over 12% to the formation of the GDP, are limited to those carried out by rare, small processing companies of agricultural products. The secondary sector was heavily affected by the interruption of the extraction of phosphates from the island of Ocean, which before 1979 represented approx. 80% of the export value.
Tourism is of growing importance, to which specific development plans are destined for the future: it participates for more than a fifth in the formation of GDP (the tertiary sector, overall, contributes to over three quarters), despite the fact that it is not easy to reach the islands that make up Kiribati and there is still inadequate infrastructure. Communications are scarce (overall there are only about 670 km of roads suitable for motorization) and very difficult, given the enormous distances between island and island; they take place mostly by sea, with the main ports on the island of Ocean and with Betio, on the island of Tarawa. However, the Gilberts are connected to each other by an air service; there are also four international ports of call on the islands. In terms of trade, Kiribati exports mainly copra, followed by coconuts, seaweeds and fish, while the main imports concern food, materials and equipment, artifacts, fuel, etc.; the main partners are the USA, Belgium, Japan, Samoa, Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Denmark for export, Australia, Fiji, Japan and New Zealand for imports. Over the years the decline in the international price of copra has caused the formation of a constant the main partners are the USA, Belgium, Japan, Samoa, Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Denmark for export, Australia, Fiji, Japan and New Zealand for imports. Over the years the decline in the international price of copra has caused the formation of a constant the main partners are the USA, Belgium, Japan, Samoa, Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Denmark for export, Australia, Fiji, Japan and New Zealand for imports. Over the years the decline in the international price of copra has caused the formation of a constant trade deficit: the economy of Kiribati has therefore continued to rely on remittances from immigrants and to depend on international aid (mainly provided by the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia). However, governments have initiated a process of change, aimed at replacing imported goods, enhancing the external islands and improving transport. The country is a member of the South Pacific Commission.