Tuvalu, pronounced "too-VAH-loo", is an independent constitutional monarchy in the southwest Pacific Ocean between latitudes 5 degrees and 11 degrees south and longitudes 176 degrees and 180 degrees east. Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, they separated from the Gilbert Islands after a referendum in 1975, and achieved independence from Great Britain on October 1, 1978. The population of 11,636 (est 2005) live on Tuvalu's nine atolls, which have a total land area of 10 square miles, or 27 square kilometres. This ranks Tuvalu as the fourth smallest country in the world, in terms of land area.
The country name roughly translates to "8 standing together". This refers to the eight traditional islands of Tuvalu. The nine islands, from north to south, are:
Articles: Island details
The ninth island, tiny Niulakita, was inhabited only since the 1950's, and was not part of "ancient" Tuvalu. It is now inhabited by natives of Niutao.
In 1986, Tuvaluans approved a new, locally written constitution.
Funafuti, pronounced "foo-NAH-footi", is the capital of Tuvalu. Most administration offices are all located in Vaiaku Village on Fogafale (formerly spelled Fongafale) Islet, Funafuti atoll.
People: Ethnic Tuvaluans are Polynesian, and account for 94% of the population. However, the majority of the 600 natives on Nui are of Gilbertese (Micronesian) origin. Most Tuvaluans are members of the Christian Church of Tuvalu (Ekalesia Kelisiano o Tuvalu), autonomous since 1968 and derived from the Congregationalist foundation of the London Missionary Society. Life, especially on outer islands, revolves around religion.
The Land:The flat islands seldom rise higher than 15 feet above sea level. Five of the islands, Funafuti, Nukufetau, Nukulaelae, Nui, and Nanumea are atolls – large, roughly circular columns of coral which rise up almost vertically from the sea bed, forming a reef, with coral islands occurring where the coral rises above high tide level. Large lagoons are enclosed within the coral reef. Many "artificial" lagoons are on the various islets of Funafuti, as the results of extracting material for the runway built by American forces during World war II. The remaining four islands are pinnacles of land rising up solid from the sea bed. Some have salt-water ponds on them, while Nanumea has a fresh-water pond, a rarity for atolls. Coconut palms cover most of the land.
Economy: Tuvalu's small size and almost total lack of exploitable resources suggest that most of the population will remain dependent on subsistence activities for the foreseeable future. Subsistence farming and fishing are the primary economic activities. Subsistence crops are coconuts, taro, pandanus fruit, and bananas. Tuvaluan business is predominantly co-operative or communal, with each island having a co-operative store, locally called the Fusi.
Tuvalu exports small quantities of copra, sells licenses to foreign ships wishing to fish for tuna in it 200 mile exclusive economic zone, and has a philatelic bureau for stamp collectors. The islands are too remote for development of a large-scale tourist industry. Otherwise, it must depend on remittances from expatriate Tuvaluans and external aid funds.
Most employment is in the government sector, but in recent years there has been an increasing number of private businesses developing, especially on Funafuti. About 1,000 Tuvaluans work in Nauru in the phosphate mining industry. Nauru has begun repatriating Tuvaluans, however, as phosphate resources decline, which will present additional problems for Tuvalu's already stretched economy. In an effort to address this issue creatively, the governments of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom in conjunction with the government of Tuvalu established the Tuvalu Trust Fund in 1987, under which the three donor nations contributed Aust$24.7 million. This money has been placed in portfolio investments, and the net income each year is paid to Tuvalu to help meet its recurrent budget.
A number of Tuvaluans are merchant seamen on overseas ships. The Tuvalu Maritime School was built on Amatuku islet on Funafuti and opened in 1981. Recruits go through an extensive eight month training program, and Tuvaluan graduates are reckoned as good mariners and widely sought after by world shipping companies. Most seamen send their wages home to their families.
Since 1999, Tuvalu has been able to earn over several million dollars a year marketing it's Internet domain name through the American company .TV Corporation. Tuvalu's unique suffix, ".TV", attracts interest from many individuals, entities and television companies around the world, and some have been willing to pay large sums for internet addresses such as www.china.tv or www.nbc4.tv. The scheme got off to a rough start, but has now proven to be the largest source of income for the nation.
Imports consist mainly of food, petroleum products, construction materials and manufactured goods. Most imports are sourced from Fiji and Australia.
The Australian dollar is legal tender in Tuvalu. Australian paper money and coins are in circulation around the islands. Some Tuvaluan coins, most of 1976 vintage, are also in circulation.
Communications and Transport: Radio Tuvalu is the only local radio station. It broadcasts 40 hours per week, in English and Tuvaluan. The government publishes the only newspaper, Tuvalu Echoes. It is available by subscription from the Broadcasting and Information Division on Funafuti.
Funafuti Atoll has a regular telephone service, and there are connections to all the outer islands through the Post Offices. As of early 1999, there were about 700 subscribers. A telephone directory has been published. Communications with the outer islands is also available by radiophone. Full Internet services havebeen available since late 1999. The domain suffix is "TV", which has potential resale value.
The main roads of Funafuti are the only paved ones in Tuvalu, done in the lated 1990's. There are a few private cars, and some owned by the government. A small number of trucks, tractors, and emergency vehicles travel on roads of the capital. Minibuses and a taxis run between the government centre at Vaiaku and the deep-sea wharf at the north end of Fongafale islet on Funafuti Atoll. The most popular method of individual transport is the bicycle, followed by small motorcycles. There is one passenger/cargo vessel based at Funafuti, the M. V. Nivaga. It provides inter-island transport throughout the island group, along with occasional visits to Fiji, Kiribati and Tokelau.
There are regular air services from Funafuti International Airport to Tarawa, Kiribati and Suva, Fiji. The runway on Funafuti was black-topped in 1995, previously consisting of grass covered with crushed coral.
Climate: Hot, tropical climate with very little seasonal variation; average temperature 30 degrees Celsius; heavy rainfall, averaging approximately 353.5 centimetres per year; and, very occasionally subject to hurricanes - severe cyclones struck in 1894, 1972 and 1990. The wettest season is November to February. See the Tuvalu weather page for current up-todate weather information and a sattelite view.
International Organization Participation: AsDB, Commonwealth of Nations, United Nations, ESCAP, Intelsat (nonsignatory user), ITU, Sparteca, SPC, SPF, UNESCO, UPU, WHO, WTrO (applicant)
Time: Greenwich Mean Time plus 12 hours.