Tuvalu

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Tuvalu

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Blue Planet Odyssey

Description & main attractions

Formerly the Ellice Islands, the name ‘Tuvalu’ means ‘cluster of eight’ although the group in fact consists of nine low-lying coral atolls. Only eight of them were inhabited when the name was chosen, but a small community now lives on previously uninhabited Niulakita, the southernmost island of the archipelago.

The islands lie just below the equator and west of the International Dateline. With a total land area of only 26 sq km (11 sq miles), Tuvalu is one of the smallest countries in the world, spread out in half a million square miles of ocean.

These islands are now facing the tragic prospect of being one of the first victims of the current climate change. The rising ocean level is already affecting the main island of Funafuti, which has been flooded on several recent occasions, and it is now predicted that all the islands will be submerged before the end of this century.

The first inhabitants arrived about two thousand years ago, mostly from Samoa, but also from Tonga and Uvea (Wallis). The northern islands, especially Nui, were populated from Micronesia. A society under the leadership of chiefs developed, and customs and traditions akin to Samoa remain today.

The first European sighting of the islands was in 1765. There was little other contact until the nineteenth century when slave traders, known as blackbirders, took hundreds of islanders to work in Peru, Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii and Australia. The islands became a British Protectorate and then part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. After a referendum in 1975, the Ellice Islands separated from the Gilberts and became Tuvalu, achieving full independence in 1978.

Tuvalu lies within the tradewind zone, but on the edge of the South Pacific equatorial doldrum zone. Prevailing winds are from the easterly quarter but in most years, from December to March, winds between the west and north usually exceed the easterlies in frequency. Temperatures are uniformly high all year round, with the mean annual temperature of 28°C/82°F. Tuvalu lies on the northern edge of the tropical storm belt and occasionally severe cyclones strike the islands.

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Host marina / Port information

With the exception of the island of Funafuti, yachts rarely visit the other islands. Although some only have precarious anchorages in the lee of a fringing reef, the lagoon is accessible in at least two islands, at Nukufetau and Nanumea, where visiting yachts are always warmly greeted. A similar welcome awaits sailors at any of the other islands, and although there have been plans to open passes into some of the other lagoons, this is unlikely to happen.

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