Tuvalu is an independent country made up of a collection of small islands in the South Pacific. It falls into a region known as Oceana and is roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii.
Let’s have a look at the top 10 most interesting facts about Tuvalu.
1. Tuvalu was previously part of the British colony of Gilbert and Ellice Islands.
Tuvalu became a British protectorate in 1892 but gained independence in 1978. It used to be known as Ellice Island and formed part of the colony of Gilbert and Ellice Islands. Even before independence, the islands voted to separate and become known as Kiribati and Tuvalu islands, respectively. An interesting fact about Tuvalu is that this country’s name means “eight standing together” and refers to the eight inhabited islands of the country. There are now nine inhabited islands, which are represented as stars on the national flag. Because of their colonial past, locals typically speak both Tuvaluan and English.
2. The Spanish were the first Europeans to see and name the islands of Tuvalu.
The first of the Tuvalu islands to be sighted by Europeans was Nui. The Spanish navigator, Álvaro de Mendaña, spotted it on January 16, 1568, on the first of his expeditions to locate Australia. He named it “Isla de Jesús,” meaning “Island of Jesus” because they had just celebrated the feast of the Holy Name. Seven years later, on his second expedition, he named Niulakita “La Solitaria,” meaning “The Lonely One.”
3. It is the fourth-smallest country in the world.
The total area of Tuvalu is only 10mi2, making it the fourth smallest country in terms of area in the world after Monaco, Nauru, and Vatican City. Its population is just over 11,000, with 20% living overseas at any point. A fun fact about Tuvalu is that its economy is the smallest of any country in the world because of its remoteness and limited resources. The only way to fly to Tuvalu is via Fiji, and there usually is just one flight a week. Most inhabitants are subsistence farmers who rely on money sent home from relatives working overseas. The nation is heavily dependent on foreign aid, and it imports most of its food and goods. They use the Australian dollar, but also have their own currency.
4. The country is made entirely of coral and may disappear.
Tuvalu is one of four countries made up entirely of coral atolls. The others are its neighbor Kiribati, the Maldives, and the Marshall Islands. The highest point of the islands is only 15ft above sea level, and there is a real risk of Tuvalu disappearing as ocean levels rise. Even before this happens, rising sea levels will increase the salinity of the soil, and make growing food difficult. Discussions are already underway of moving the whole country to either New Zealand or Fiji.
5. The .tv country domain extension assigned to Tuvalu generates 10% of its revenue.
Tuvalu got lucky when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) assigned them .tv as their country domain extension. The domain is highly sought after in the media and entertainment industry, and generates millions for Tuvalu, contributing 10% of their total revenue, a fun fact about Tuvalu.
6. Only 2000 visitors stop in at the islands each year.
Tuvalu has the most liberal visa policy in the world; anyone from anywhere can visit without obtaining a visa beforehand. There are a few things that deter tourists, though, and only 2000 people visit per year. The island doesn’t accept credit cards – the infrastructure to support a credit card processing system is too expensive to justify. And there is just one hotel, and one flight per week.
7. American troops were stationed at Tuvalu during World War II.
When Japan occupied neighboring Kiribati island, U.S. troops stationed themselves in Tuvalu to launch attacks. On Fongafale, the biggest of the Tuvalu islands, they built a naval station and an airstrip, which later became Tuvalu’s airport. There were runways built on two other smaller islands and an underground bunker on a third. Many wrecks and other war relics litter the area.
8. Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife mentions Tuvalu in her diary.
‘The Cruise of the “Janet Nichol” Among the South Sea Islands: A Diary’ was first published in 1914. It is the diary of Fanny Stevenson, the wife of Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. In it, she recounts the family’s three-month journey from Sydney through the central and western pacific on a trading steamer in 1890. She records stopping at three of the Tuvalu islands, Funafuti, Niutao, and Nanumea. Mrs. Stevenson was the only woman on board, and is described as “a short-haired, barefoot, cigarette-smoking American.” Her account, together with photographs taken by her husband and adult son, Lloyd Osbourne, portrays a changing world and the story of an unconventional marriage.
9. Darwin’s theory of “subsidence” was tested on Tuvalu.
The Royal Society of London attempted to test Darwin’s theories of atoll formation on three separate missions to bore into the coral on Funafuti in 1896, 1897, and 1898. Darwin proposed that coral atolls start as fringes on volcanic islands, which grow upwards towards the sunlight. To prove his theory, one would expect to find volcanic matter at depth on the atolls. Unfortunately, the drilling equipment used on the expeditions wasn’t able to drill deep enough, an interesting fact about Tuvalu. Darwin’s theory was only proved in 1951 when the United States Geological Survey found volcanic rock at Eniwetok and Bikini atolls on the Marshall Islands. The Society’s boreholes remain on Funafuti and can be visited.
10. Tuvaluan mythology says the eel and the flounder created the islands.
Each of the Tuvaluan islands has a “creation myth” explaining their existence. One that is common to many of them is the story that the islands were created by the eel and the flounder. The eel is also held to be the model of the coconut palm and is so revered that it is not eaten even today.
Tuvalu has much to offer for such a small country. I hope that this article on Tuvalu facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!