Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia. Its nearest neighbours are Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji. Comprising 4 reef islands and 5 true atolls, curving northwest-southeast in a chain 676 km long it lies on the outer western edge of Polynesia. The small nation has a total land area of just 26 square kilometers (10 sq mi), and it is the second-least populated independent country in the world. The population in July 2005 was estimated to be 10,441 with 5,394 living on Funafuti, the Capital of Tuvalu.


Tuvalu map

The land is very low lying with narrow coral atolls, and has very poor land and the soil is hardly usable for agriculture There is almost no reliable supply of potable water. The highest elevation is five meters (16 ft) above the sea level. Funafuti is the largest atoll of the nine low reef islands and atolls that form this volcanic island chain.

Due to their low elevation, the islands that make up this nation are threatened by any future sea level rise. The population is likely to evacuate during the next decades to New Zealand, Niue or the Fijian island of Kioa.

Tuvalu Funafuti Beach

As a result of global warming, the penetration of heat into the ocean leads to the thermal expansion of the water; this effect, coupled with the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, results in a rise in sea level. Sea-level rise is not uniform globally but will vary with factors such as currents, winds, and tides-as well as with different rates of warming, the efficiency of ocean circulation, and regional and local atmospheric (e.g., tectonic and pressure) effects. This small nation is beginning to see the eefcts resulting from accelerated sea-level rise; these effects include coastal erosion, saline intrusion, and sea flooding, among other impacts.


Shuichi Endo the Japanese activist and journalist is photographing 10,000 Tuvaluans (nearly the entire population) in a bid to draw political attention to the threat they face from global warming.

Endo said, “If industrialised countries like Japan and the United States don’t cut their greenhouse gas emissions, the Tuvaluans won’t be able to carry on living here. Their culture will be lost, they will no longer exist, and that would be very sad. Here, people live in tune with the natural environment. They don’t emit carbon, and we can learn a lot from them.”

No one seems to really know where the Tuvaluans will go if their islands disappear something one study said could happen in just 50 years. Australia has been approached by the islands’ authorities, but has not agreed to let the islanders resettle there. New Zealand accepts 75 a year under a regional immigration quota, but has no explicit policy to take in people from Pacific island countries due to climate change.

There is no doubt that holiday makers and the tourism industry generally will be impacted upon. More importantly, the plight of these islanders does not augur well for millions of other people from Africa’s Sahel region to Bangladesh in south Asia who could become climate refugees.

Carteret Atoll and Majuro are another small group of islands that will need to be relocated due to rising sea levels.