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Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia. Its nearest neighbors are Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji. Comprising four reef islands and five true atolls with a gross land area of just 26 square kilometers (10 sq mi) it is the third-least populated independent country in the world, with only Vatican City and Nauru having fewer inhabitants. It is also the second-smallest member by population of the United Nations. In terms of physical land size, Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world, larger only than the Vatican City—0.44 km²; Monaco—1.95 km² and Nauru—21 km².
The first inhabitants of Tuvalu were Polynesian people. The islands came under Britain's sphere of influence in the late 19th century. The Ellice Islands were administered by Britain as part of a protectorate from 1892 to 1916 and as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony from 1916 to 1974. In 1974 the Ellice Islanders voted for separate British dependency status as Tuvalu, separating from the Gilbert Islands which became Kiribati upon independence. Tuvalu became fully independent within The Commonwealth in 1978.
Tuvalu consists of four reef islands and five true atolls. Its small, scattered group of atolls has poor soil and a total land area of only about 26 square kilometers (less than 10 sq. mi.) making it the fourth smallest country in the world. The land is very low lying with narrow coral atolls. Funafuti is the largest atoll of the nine low reef islands and atolls that form the Tuvalu volcanic island chain. It comprises numerous islets around a central lagoon that is approximately 25.1 kilometers (15.6 mi) (N-S) by 18.4 kilometers (11.4 mi) (W-E), centered on 179°7’E and 8°30’S. An annular reef rim surrounds the lagoon, with several natural reef channels.
The highest elevation is five meters (16 ft) above sea level, which gives Tuvalu the second-lowest maximum elevation of any country (after the Maldives). Because of this low elevation, the islands that make up this nation may be threatened by any future sea level rise. Under such circumstances, the population may evacuate to New Zealand, Niue or the Fijian island of Kioa. Additionally, Tuvalu is affected by what is known as a King Tide, which can raise the sea level higher than a normal high tide. In the future, this may threaten to submerge the nation entirely.
Tuvalu has very poor land and the soil is hardly usable for agriculture. There is almost no reliable supply of drinking water.
Tuvalu has westerly gales and heavy rain from November to March and tropical temperatures moderated by easterly winds from March to November.
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