One reason why you should Go Now! is to visit places that may not exist in the future. Tuvalu is one of four countries in danger of being swallowed by the sea. These four countries are low-lying atolls barely above sea level, frequently flooded by king tides and typhoons. With sea levels rising due to Climate Change, about half the islands that form these four counties will be uninhabitable by 2100.
|Population||GDP (us$)||Area (km2)||# of atolls||Avg elev (m)|
|Marshall Islands||42,050||$280 million||181||29||2,1|
Funafuti is the capital and largest village in Tuvalu. 60% of Tuvalu’s population live here.
Life in Tuvalu is simple. There’s decent housing. There’s a ferry to the outer islands. The center of Tuvalu is its airport runway, which is not fenced off. With only three flights a week, the mile-long airstrip is a community recreation center the rest of the week, where people play soccer and volleyball, hold bicycle races and family picnics.
Like all atolls, Tuvalu has a narrow strip of land separating the turbulent ocean from its tranquil lagoon. On the ocean side, the surf pounds away at the island’s coral dunes. On the inside, the lagoon’s beaches are soft, white sand. At new moon and full moon, one can walk between some of the islands at low tide.
From one end of the main island to the other, Tuvalu has 15 km of paved roads. Click the video above to take a short motorcycle ride to see what Tuvalu looks like and to hear some local music.
Tuvalu has poor soil and not much of it. The traditional foods are pulaka, taro, bananas, breadfruit, coconut and sea food. All other foods are imported. I stayed at the family-run ESFAM Lodge and was treated to a Saturday night feast of native dishes.
Tuvalu is small, quiet, isolated and near the equator. Dogs sleep in the shade on hot afternoons. For entertainment, folks play dominoes, compete at bingo, play sports and go for motorcycle rides. I was glad to see that, unlike Majuro, Tarawa or Nauru, Tuvalu has few cars. Everyone gets around by motorcycle, which means little traffic, no parking issues and cleaner air.
On Sundays in Tuvalu, everything is closed except for churches. So, I went to church.
After church, I had the good luck to meet Seve Paeniu who invited me to his home for lunch. Mr. Paeniu is Tuvalu’s Minister of Finance and Development. He represented Tuvalu at COP-27 in Egypt in November 2022. Over lunch under an awning behind his house, he told me about Tuvalu’s ambitious plan to save his country.
In order to preserve the island’s culture, language, history and traditions, Tuvalu’s official government policy is to stay on the island – “come what may!” To accomplish this, the inner lagoon is being dredged to form new land up to 10 meters above sea level on which high density housing, water collection facilities, farms, a modern hospital, solar power plants and a new airport can be built. This project has already begun. The vision for this “green” project is almost science fiction. To see a 6-minute presentation of how Tuvalu will become safe from rising sea levels, click here.
How much will this project cost? A billion US dollars, maybe? That works out to be about $100,000 for every Tuvaluan. Would it not be faster, cheaper and less damaging to the environment to relocate the 11,000 people who currently live on Tuvalu?
I appreciate Tuvalu’s commitment to preserving its heritage. Is it worth it? Will it work? I interviewed several Tuvaluans. Opinions about this project are correlated by age. Every Tuvaluan I spoke with between 18 and 30 wants to relocate to New Zealand or Australia as soon as possible for jobs, opportunities and a better standard of living; while older folks don’t want to relocate because they value their community, heritage and traditional way of life.
Will Tuvalu become an isolated retirement community 20 years from now? Or will it become a vibrant, high-tech, self-sustaining oasis in the middle of the Pacific? This will be a fascinating future to watch unfold.
I’m glad I saw Tuvalu now — before it changes. It’s a beautiful country, and a memorable place to celebrate a birthday. Today, I’m changing planes in Fiji to head to the last nation on this six-island odyssey.
P.S. On departure from Tuvalu, my boarding pass was hand-written. Life is truly simple here.