Tuvalu country profile

  • Published
Map of Tulavu

Tuvalu is a group of nine tiny islands in the South Pacific which won independence from the United Kingdom in 1978.

Five of the islands are coral atolls, the other four consist of land rising from the sea bed.

Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, all are low-lying, with no point on Tuvalu being higher than 4.5m above sea level. Local politicians have campaigned against climate change, arguing that it could see the islands swamped by rising sea levels.

Life on the islands is simple and often harsh. There are no streams or rivers, so the collection of rain is essential.

Coconut palms cover most of the islands, and copra - dried coconut kernel - is practically the only export commodity. Increasing salination of the soil threatens traditional subsistence farming.

Tuvalu has shown ingenuity by exploiting another source of income. It has sold its internet suffix - .tv - to a Californian company for several million dollars a year in continuing revenue. The company sells the suffix on to television broadcasters.


  • Capital: Funafuti
  • Population: 11,900
  • Area: 26 sq km
  • Languages: Tuvaluan, English
  • Life expectancy: 62 years (men) 67 years (women)


Head of state: King Charles III, represented by a governor-general

Prime Minister: Kausea Natano

Image source, Getty Images

Kausea Natano was appointed prime minister following the September 2019 general elections. He succeeded Enele Sosene Sopoaga, who became prime minster in 2013 after Willy Telavi was dismissed by the governor-general for his failure to convene parliament for eight months.

He was first elected an MP in 2002, and served as the country's deputy prime minister and minister for communications in former prime minister Willy Telavi's cabinet.

Tuvalu has no political parties. Allegiances revolve around personalities and geography. The 15-member parliament is popularly elected every four years. The prime minister is chosen by MPs.


Many islanders use satellite dishes to watch foreign TV stations.


Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Funafuti, Tuvalu. The UN has classified the low-lying South Pacific island nation as ‘extremely vulnerable’ to climate change

Some key dates in Tuvalu's history:

14th century AD - Samoans, Tongans and settlers from other Polynesian islands migrate to the islands

1568 and 1595 - Spaniard Alvaro Mendana de Neyra sights the islands of Nui and Niulakita on two separate expeditions.

1819 - A ship owned by British MP Edward Ellice visits Funafuta. The captain names the island Ellice Island. Later this name was applied to all nine atolls.

1850-75 - "Blackbirding" - the kidnapping of islanders for forced labour on plantations in Fiji and Queensland - and the introduction of European diseases reduces the population from 20,000 to 3,000. In 1863 Peruvian slave traders kidnap 400 islanders - nearly two-thirds of the population of the islands of Funafuti and Nukulaelae.

1877 - Britain sets up the Western Pacific High Commission with its headquarters in Fiji. The Ellice Islands and other island groups come under its jurisdiction.

1892 - Britain declares a joint protectorate over the Ellice Islands and the Gilbert Islands.

1916 -The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony is formed. Over the next 20 years other island groups, including the Line Islands and the Phoenix Islands, join the colony.

1974 - Ethnic tensions result in more than 90% of the mainly Polynesian Ellice Islanders voting for separation from the predominantly Micronesian Gilbert Islands.

1975 - Ellice Islands become a separate British dependency, under the pre-colonial name of Tuvalu meaning "eight standing together" which refers to the eight populated atolls.

1978 - Independence.

1986 - Votes to remain an independent constitutional monarchy with the British monarch at its head.

1989 - UN lists Tuvalu as one of a number of island groups most likely to disappear beneath the sea in the 21st Century because of global warming.

2000 - Admitted to the United Nations.

2001 - New Zealand offers to resettle islanders threatened by rising sea-levels. Tuvalu says it will take legal action, along with Kiribati and the Maldives, against the US for its refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

2008 - Votes again to remain an independent constitutional monarchy with the British monarch at its head, though the referendum turnout is low - 21%.

2022 - Amid rivalry between China and Taiwan for diplomatic recognition from Pacific states, Tuvalu's Prime Minister Kausea Natano reaffirms its commitment to Taiwan on a state visit to Taipei.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Tuvalu's new parliament building, on Funafuti, built with grant aid from Taiwan

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