Tuvalu (tōōväl´ōō), independent Commonwealth nation (2005 est. pop. 11,600), 10 sq mi (26 sq km), composed of nine low coral atolls, formerly known as the Ellice (or Lagoon) Islands, scattered over the W Pacific Ocean. The capital is the atoll of Funafuti.
The population is primarily Polynesian and about 98% Protestant; most are members of the Church of Tuvalu, a Congregationalist denomination. Tuvaluan, English, Samoan, and Kiribati (on the island of Nui) are spoken. Subsistence farming and fishing are the mainstays of the economy, especially on the atolls (the outer islands) other than Funafuti. The smallness and remoteness of the islands hinder the development of a tourist industry. The sale of postage stamps and coins accounts for the largest portion of the country's income. Remittances from overseas workers are also important. Other substantial income is received through a trust fund established in 1987 by Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain and also supported by Japan and South Korea. Copra and fish are the main exports; food, animals, mineral fuels, machinery, and manufactured goods are imported. The main trading partners are Germany, Fiji, Italy, Japan, and China.
Tuvalu is governed under the constitution of 1978. The monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by the governor-general, is the head of state. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is elected by the Parliament. Members of the 15-seat unicameral Parliament or House of Assembly (Fale I Fono) are popularly elected for four-year terms.
Capt. John Byron visited the islands in 1764 and they were administered by Britain as part of a protectorate (1892–1916) and as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony (1916–74). The colony became self-governing in 1971, and in 1974 the Ellice Islanders voted for separate British dependency status as Tuvalu. They became fully independent in 1978 and in 1979 signed a treaty of friendship with the United States, which recognized Tuvalu's possession of four small islands formerly claimed by the United States. Ionatana Ionatana, prime minister since Mar., 1999, died in Dec., 2000; the following February, Faimalaga Luka was elected to succeed him. In 2001 the government requested help from Australia and New Zealand in resettling its citizens if global warming leads to a significant rise in ocean waters; the highest point in the country is about 16 ft (5 m) above sea level. In Dec., 2001, Luka lost a confidence vote. Koloa Talake was chosen to succeed him, but he lost his seat in the elections in July, 2002. Saufatu Sopoanga became prime minister the following month. Sopoanga lost a confidence vote two years later, and in Oct., 2004, Maatia Toafa succeeded him. Following the Aug., 2006, parliamentary elections, in which all members of the government except Toafa lost their seats, Apisai Ielemia became prime minister. Toafa again became prime minister following the Sept., 2010, elections, but his government lost a confidence vote in December; Willy Telavi was elected to succeed him. In Aug., 2013, Telavi was ousted, and Enele Sopoaga became prime minister. A tropical cyclone in Mar., 2015, caused significant damage to many of the country's atolls.