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Funafuti lagoon, Tuvalu - 2002
The tiny nation of Tuvalu, a string of coral atolls in the western Pacific boasting palm-fringed beaches and marvellous lagoons, offers the venturesome traveler something different. It has been called one of the least developed countries in the world, the kind of place, according to the Lonely Planet travel guide, where you can "sit under a palm tree and never be bothered by anyone."
But things change. Tuvalu is going big time. In February 2000 the United Nations Security Council cleared the way, subject to formal action by the General Assembly, for the country to join the UN. Big money, and big development, may be just over the horizon. This is the age of the Internet, and in early 2000 the Tuvaluan government signed a $50 million contract to license Tuvalus ".tv" country code to interested parties, for use as a snappy alternative to such common domain names as ".com" and ".org" in Internet addresses. The country is on target to becoming (at least in concept) a major destination for wanderers on the World Wide Web.
On a different
note, the low-lying nation faces a threat of inundation if the ocean level rises in future
years because of global warming. The bottom line would seem to be that traditional Tuvalu
is not long for this world. For those who might be interested in experiencing one of the
last examples of a classic, peaceful, non-commercial South Seas paradise, the message may
be: now or never.
INTERNET MONEYOnce a British colony known as the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu (the name means "group of eight"there are actually nine islands, but the southernmost one, Niulakita, has never been permanently inhabited) gained its independence in 1978. Today it has a population of a little over 10,000, and a total land area of about 26 sq km (10 sq miles). It lacks mineral resources, and in the past the chief sources of foreign exchange included copra (a coconut product) and postage stamps, along with foreign aid and money sent home by Tuvaluans who went abroad to work. The countrys gross domestic product has averaged less than $10 million a year.
Fatele (dance), Funafuti, Tuvalu.
Needing new sources of revenue, Tuvalu agreed in the 1990s to license some of its phone numbers to a Hong Kong firm for use in a 900-number business, for $1.2 million a year. But Tuvalu, overwhelmingly Protestant by religion, took steps to end the deal when it learned that the numbers were being used for phone sex. Believing that its .tv Net name suffix was a potential gold mine, Tuvalu signed a licensing deal in 1998 with a Canadian businessman, Jason Chapnik. But Chapnik proved unable to come up with the expected financing on his own, and the following year he approached Idealab!, a California-based Internet business "incubator" that played a role in the emergence of the online retailer EToys and the free Internet service provider NetZero. Idealab! supplied backing for a new startup, called dotTV, which recently agreed to pay royalties of up to $50 million over the next decade to Tuvalu in return for the right to market Internet addresses, or URLs, with the suffix .tv. With a required minimum payment of $1 million every three months, dotTV automatically became the single biggest source of revenue for Tuvalu, which planned to channel the bonanza to improve health, education, and transportation services.
TUVALU GOES TECHNOLOGICAL
Dame Jane Resture, Ph.D.
URL names can be pricey propertiesa Texas company sold the name "Business.com" for $7.5 million in 1999and dotTV hopes to auction off a host of .tv names for thousands of dollars, or more, apiece.
While skeptics say that people have gotten used to using names ending in "dot-com" and wont switch to something different, dotTV Chief Executive Lou Kerner argues that "tv" is "the most recognizable two-letter symbol on the planet."
Other countries started franchising their domain names before TuvaluTonga, for example, did it in 1997, but its .to code is not as desirable a property as Tuvalus .tv. Several thousand names ending in ".md" have been sold to doctors and hospitals, at an average price of a few hundred dollars, under license from Moldova.
Tuvalu got its first Internet service provider in 1999, but even before that it had already started upgrading other aspects of its global connectivity, including satellite communications. There is a satellite earth station at the capital, Funafuti, and all eight inhabited islands have satellite receivers. Round-the-clock satellite TV service is available. Tuvalu is no longer as far off the beaten track as it once was.
Aerial view of Funafuti Atoll, Tuvalu.
The code name for Tuvalus tiny international airport is FUN, and Tuvalu does have its charms though they are not quite of the same nature as those offered by, say, Hawaii or Las Vegas The period between May and September is the most pleasant time for visitors, as the easterly trade winds moderate the tropical climate. The average annual temperature is about 30°C (86°F), varying relatively little throughout the year. The wet season runs from October or November to March.
Places to visit include the handicraft centersthe country is famous for its crafts as well as its postage stamps. Traditional thatched-roof buildings can be seen throughout the islands. And visitors will not want to miss the opportunity to see the celebrated Tuvaluan dance, the fatele.
An enchanting coral islet, Tuvalu.
But perhaps the top attraction for tourists is Tuvalus natural beauty. The Funafuti lagoon, 14 km (almost 9 miles) wide and 18 km (11 miles) long, is a good spot for fishing, swimming, and snorkelling. The Funafuti Marine Conservation Area, 32 sq km (12 sq miles) in size, is a marine park embracing six uninhabited islets and a huge reef. It boasts an abundance of multi-coloured tropical fish and is a nesting ground for sea birds and turtles.
A Tuvalu Poem
TUVALU, MY TUVALU
Tuvalu, my Tuvalu the land across the sea
Surrounded by the Ocean, you mean so much to me
I miss this coral atoll with gentle swaying palms
With smiling gentle people, so peaceful and so calm.
Tuvalu, my Tuvalu I always think of you
Wherever I may travel across the sea so blue
And deep inside me I know that it will be
Tuvalu, my Tuvalu you always think of me.
Your sons and daughters travel away to distant lands
They leave their homes and families so that they will understand
To study truth and knowledge in sadness and in pain, and then
Tuvalu, my Tuvalu you welcome them home again.
Tuvalu, my Tuvalu may Gods blessings be on you
To give you strength and courage to see the future through
And may our blessed people hold their heads up high
Tuvalu, my Tuvalu I will love you till I die.
Poem by Jane Resture
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