Group of 16 coral atolls (pop., 2005 prelim.: 83,683), part of the island country of Kiribati, western Pacific Ocean. The islands, including Tarawa, the largest, occupy a total land area of 105 sq mi (272 sq km). The British visited them in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in 1892 they became a British protectorate. In 1916 they became part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands crown colony. They were occupied by Japanese forces from 1941 to 1943 and saw heavy fighting. Made a separate territory in 1976, they became part of Kiribati in 1979.