How-do-you-do, Tuvalu: Wills and Kate's Pacific hideaway

Dec 15, 2011
Jonathan Harwood

Everything you need to know about the islands the young royals will visit next year

THE tiny Pacific state of Tuvalu will find itself at the centre of attention next year when it plays host to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka William and Kate, who will visit the chain of islands as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
All the Commonwealth countries where the Queen remains the head of state will get a royal visitor in 2012, but Tuvalu must surely be the most obscure.
The nation has a land area of less than 10 square miles and with a population of just 10,000 is the fourth-smallest country in the world. It lies halfway between Australia and Hawaii in the South Pacific, and last received a royal visitor in 1982 when the Queen herself visited and she and Prince Philip were carried ashore on giant canoes.
In preparation for the visit, here are five things you should know about Tuvalu:

  • It is perhaps best known in the west as one of the countries most at risk from global warming and rising sea levels. Its highest point is just 15 feet above sea level and, during storms, waves can wash over entire islands. High 'king tides' also pose a risk as they cause flooding and pollute the groundwater, which kills crops. The nation's plight was documented in a 2004 film called The Disappearing of Tuvalu: Trouble in Paradise. In the last decade there have been proposals to relocate the entire population to the island of Niue, hundreds of miles to the east, which sits atop 30-metre cliffs.
  • The country has no rivers and, because of the contaminated groundwater, it relies on rain for its drinking water. But it experienced a terrible drought this year, caused by the La Nina weather phenomenon. After six months without rain, a state of emergency was declared in September and Australia and New Zealand airlifted desalination plants to the islands. Wills and Kate will be advised to take a supply of the Duchy’s bottled mineral water.
  • Tuvalu's main island, Funafuti, was named after Edward Ellice, a British politician and merchant in 1819, even though it was first settled by Polynesian voyagers 2,000 years ago. It was part of the British-owned Gilbert and Ellice Islands until the 1970s. In 1976 the two sets of islands were split into different colonies and later became independent countries. The Gilbert Islands became part of Kitibati while the Ellice Islands were renamed Tuvalu when they became independent in 1978.
  • Although it consists of nine islands, Tuvalu means 'the power of eight'. This is because at the time of indpendence only eight of the islands were populated. The national flag features nine stars representing each of the islands, in the correct geographical location, but with east at the top and north to the left. In 1995 one of the stars was removed to reflect the meaning of the word Tuvalu, but was later restored. Nowadays all nine islands are populated.
  • When internet domain names were being handed out Tuvalu was lucky to get the .tv suffix, and sales of domains have become a major part of the economy. Revenues from .tv names were used to pave the streets of Funafuti and introduce street lighting to the country in 2002. Copra (dried coconut) and fishing remain the main industries on the islands. William and Kate will be in exclusive company when they visit, the country only gets 1,000 or so tourists each year.

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