Groundwater (Climate Change Consequences)


Content Cover Image

Beach, Funafuti atoll, Tuvalu; Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Tuvalu is an island group and nation of under 11,000 people, consisting of a densely populated, scattered group of nine coral atolls with poor soil in the South Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to Australia. Tuvalu is one of the smallest and most remote countries on Earth.

Six of the nine coral atolls - Nanumea, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, and Nukulaelae - have lagoons open to the ocean; Nanumaya and Niutao have landlocked lagoons; Niulakita does not have a lagoon.

Since there are no streams or rivers and groundwater is not potable, most water needs must be met by catchment systems with storage facilities (the Japanese Government has built one desalination plant and plans to build one other).

Tuvalu is concerned about global increases in greenhouse gas emissions and their effect on rising sea levels, which threaten the country's underground water table. In 2000, the government appealed to Australia and New Zealand to take in Tuvaluans if rising sea levels should make evacuation necessary.

Its other major environmental issues include:

  • beachhead erosion because of the use of sand for building materials;
  • excessive clearance of forest undergrowth for use as fuel; and,
  • damage to coral reefs from the spread of the Crown of Thorns starfish;

Severe tropical storms are usually rare, but in 1997 there were three cyclones

During World War II, several thousand U.S. troops were in Tuvalu (then known as the Ellice Islands). Beginning in 1942, U.S. forces built airbases on the islands of Funafuti, Nanumea, and Nukufetau. The airstrip in the capital of Funafuti, originally built by the U.S. during the war, is still in use, as is the "American Passage" that was blasted through Nanumea's reef by SeaBees assisted by local divers.

In 1974, ethnic differences within the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands caused the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands to vote for separation from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands. The following year, the Ellice Islands became the separate British colony of Tuvalu. "Tuvalu" means "group of eight" referring to the country's eight traditionally inhabited islands.

Independence was granted in 1978.

In 2000, Tuvalu negotiated a contract leasing its Internet domain name ".tv" for $50 million in royalties over a 12-year period.

People make a living mainly through exploitation of the sea, reefs, and atolls and from wages sent home by those abroad (mostly workers in the phosphate industry and sailors).


Location: Oceania, island group consisting of nine coral atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to Australia

Geographic Coordinates: 8 00 S, 178 00 E

Area: 26 sq km

Coastline: 24 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Natural Hazards: 

Terrain: low-lying and narrow coral atolls.  The highest point is an unnamed location just 5 m above sea level.

Climate:  tropical; moderated by easterly trade winds (March to November); westerly gales and heavy rain (November to March)

Funafuti atoll. Source: NASA.


Ecology and Biodiversity

Ecologically, Tuvalu is within the Western Polynesian tropical moist forests ecoregion which covers Kiribati (Phoenix Islands), Tokelau, Tuvalu and Howland and Baker Islands.

There are few endemic plants or animals in Western Polynesia, and communities are dominated by species found throughout the Pacific. The reptile and mammal fauna is depauperate, cosmopolitan, and dominated by introduced species. There are no forest passerines and the Pacific pigeon (Ducula pacifica) and migratory long-tailed cuckoo (Eudynamis taitensis) are the only forest birds present anywhere in the islands although banded rails (Rallus philippensis) have recently colonized Nuilakita, Tuvalu from Fiji.

The original vegetation on most of the Tuvalu and Tokelau Islands has been replaced by coconut plantation (Cocos nucifera) although in some places this has been abandoned and scrubby forest is present.

People and Society

Population: 10,619 (July 2012 est.)

Ethnic Groups: Polynesian 96%, Micronesian 4%

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 30.6% (male 1,656/female 1,569)
15-64 years: 64% (male 3,294/female 3,459)
65 years and over: 5.4% (male 238/female 328) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 0.725% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 23.35 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 9.13 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -6.97 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 65.11 years

male: 63.03 years
female: 67.29 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 3.08 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Tuvaluan (official), English (official), Samoan, Kiribati (on the island of Nui)

Urbanization: 50% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 1.4% (2010-15 est.)


Government Type: Parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm.

Capital: Funafuti

Approaching the Funafuti atoll, 2000. Source: Stefan Lins/Flickr

Independence Date: 1 October 1978 (from the UK)

Legal System:  mixed legal system of English common law and local customary law. Tuvalu has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; and is a non-party state to the International criminal court (ICCt).

International Environmental Agreements

Tuvalu is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Whaling.


Natural Resources:  fish

Land Use:

arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 66.67%
other: 33.33% (2005)


Tuvalu consists of a densely populated, scattered group of nine coral atolls with poor soil. The country has no known mineral resources and few exports and is almost entirely dependent upon imported food and fuel. Subsistence farming and fishing are the primary economic activities.

Fewer than 1,000 tourists, on average, visit Tuvalu annually.

Job opportunities are scarce and public sector workers make up most of those employed. About 15% of the adult male population work as seamen on merchant ships abroad, and remittances are a vital source of income contributing around $2 million in 2007.

Substantial income is received annually from the Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF) an international trust fund established in 1987 by Australia, NZ, and the UK and supported also by Japan and South Korea. Thanks to wise investments and conservative withdrawals, this fund grew from an initial $17 million to an estimated value of $77 million in 2006. The TTF contributed nearly $9 million towards the government budget in 2006 and is an important cushion for meeting shortfalls in the government's budget.

The US Government is also a major revenue source for Tuvalu because of payments from a 1988 treaty on fisheries.

In an effort to ensure financial stability and sustainability, the government is pursuing public sector reforms, including privatization of some government functions and personnel cuts.

Tuvalu also derives royalties from the lease of its ".tv" Internet domain name with revenue of more than $2 million in 2006. A minor source of government revenue comes from the sale of stamps and coins. With merchandise exports only a fraction of merchandise imports, continued reliance must be placed on fishing and telecommunications license fees, remittances from overseas workers, official transfers, and income from overseas investments.

Growing income disparities and the vulnerability of the country to climatic change are among leading concerns for the nation.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $36 million (2010 est.)

GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $32 million (2010 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $3,400 (2010 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 16.6%
industry: 27.2%
services: 56.2% (2002)

Agricultural products: coconuts; fish

Industries: fishing, tourism, copra

Currency: Tuvaluan dollars or Australian dollars (AUD)



Agency, C., Fund, W., & Department, U. (2012). Tuvalu. Retrieved from

1 Comment

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C Michael Hogan wrote: 10-08-2011 17:13:34

Tuvalu is a little publicized corner of the world. Thanks, Sidney, for publishing this glimpse into a region that few think about, but which represents a large part of the Pacific geography.