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A-Z Around the World: Tuvalu


Welcome back to another installment of A-Z Around the World. Today we are covering Tuvalu, Enjoy !!!

 

Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island country located in the Pacific Ocean, situated in Oceania, about midway between Hawaii and Australia. It lies east-northeast of the Santa Cruz Islands (which belong to the Solomon Islands), southeast of Nauru, south of Kiribati, west of Tokelau, northwest of Samoa and Wallis and Futuna, and north of Fiji. It comprises three reef islands and six true atolls spread out between the latitude of 5° to 10° south and longitude of 176° to 180°, west of the International Date Line. Tuvalu has a population of 10,640 (2012 census). The total land area of the islands of Tuvalu is 26 square kilometres (10 sq mi).

The first inhabitants of Tuvalu were Polynesians. The origins of the people of Tuvalu are addressed in the theories regarding migration into the Pacific that began about three thousand years ago. During pre-European-contact times there was frequent canoe voyaging between the islands as Polynesian navigation skills are recognized to have allowed deliberate journeys on double-hull sailing canoes or outrigger canoes. The pattern of settlement that is believed to have occurred is that the Polynesians spread out from Samoa and Tonga into the Tuvaluan atolls, with Tuvalu providing a stepping stone to further migration into the Polynesian outliers in Melanesia and Micronesia.

In 1568, Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña was the first European to sail through the archipelago, sighting the island of Nui during his expedition in search of Terra Australis. The island of Funafuti was named Ellice's Island in 1819; the name Ellice was applied to all of the nine islands after the work of English hydrographer Alexander George Findlay. The Ellice Islands came into Great Britain's sphere of influence in the late 19th century, as the result of a treaty between Great Britain and Germany relating to the demarcation of the spheres of influence in the Pacific Ocean. Each of the Ellice Islands was declared a British Protectorate by Captain Gibson of HMS Curacoa between 9 and 16 October 1892. The Ellice Islands were administered as a British protectorate by a Resident Commissioner from 1892 to 1916, as part of the British Western Pacific Territories (BWPT), and then as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony from 1916 to 1976.

A referendum was held in December 1974 to determine whether the Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands should each have their own administration. As a consequence of the referendum, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony ceased to exist on 1 January 1976, and the separate British colonies of Kiribati and Tuvalu came into existence. Tuvalu became fully independent within the Commonwealth on 1 October 1978. On 5 September 2000, Tuvalu became the 189th member of the United Nations.

History

Prehistory

The origins of the people of Tuvalu are addressed in the theories regarding migration into the Pacific that began about 3000 years ago. During pre-European-contact times there was frequent canoe voyaging between the nearer islands including Samoa and Tonga. Eight of the nine islands of Tuvalu were inhabited; thus the name, Tuvalu, means "eight standing together" in Tuvaluan (compare to *walo meaning "eight" in Proto-Austronesian). Possible evidence of fire in the Caves of Nanumanga may indicate human occupation for thousands of years.

An important creation myth of the islands of Tuvalu is the story of the te Pusi mo te Ali (the Eel and the Flounder) who created the islands of Tuvalu; te Ali(the flounder) is believed to be the origin of the flat atolls of Tuvalu and the te Pusin (the Eel) is the model for the coconut palms that are important in the lives of Tuvaluans. The stories as to the ancestors of the Tuvaluans vary from island to island. On Niutao,[12]Funafuti and Vaitupu, the founding ancestor is described as being from Samoa, whereas on Nanumea, the founding ancestor is described as being from Tonga.

Early contacts with other cultures

Tuvalu was first sighted by Europeans on 16 January 1568, during the voyage of Álvaro de Mendaña from Spain, who sailed past Nui and charted it as Isla de Jesús (Spanish for "Island of Jesus") because the previous day was the feast of the Holy Name. Mendaña made contact with the islanders but was unable to land. During Mendaña's second voyage across the Pacific he passed Niulakita on 29 August 1595, which he named La Solitaria.

Captain John Byron passed through the islands of Tuvalu in 1764, during his circumnavigation of the globe as captain of the Dolphin (1751). He charted the atolls as Lagoon Islands. Keith S. Chambers and Doug Munro (1980) identified Niutao as the island that Francisco Mourelle de la Rúa sailed past on 5 May 1781, thus solving what Europeans had called The Mystery of Gran Cocal. Mourelle's map and journal named the island El Gran Cocal ('The Great Coconut Plantation'); however, the latitude and longitude was uncertain. Longitude could only be reckoned crudely at the time, as accurate chronometers only became available in the late 18th century.

The next European to visit was Arent Schuyler de Peyster, of New York, captain of the armed brigantine or privateer Rebecca, sailing under British colours, which passed through the southern Tuvaluan waters in May 1819; de Peyster sighted Nukufetau and Funafuti, which he named Ellice's Island after an English politician, Edward Ellice, the Member of Parliament for Coventry and the owner of the Rebecca's cargo. The name Ellice was applied to all nine islands after the work of English hydrographer Alexander George Findlay.

In 1820, the Russian explorer Mikhail Lazarev visited Nukufetau as commander of the Mirny. Louis Isidore Duperrey, captain of La Coquille, sailed past Nanumanga in May 1824 during a circumnavigation of the earth (1822–1825). A Dutch expedition (the frigate Maria Reigersberg) found Nui on the morning of 14 June 1825, and named the main island (Fenua Tapu) as Nederlandsch Eiland. Whalers began roving the Pacific, although they visited Tuvalu only infrequently because of the difficulties of landing on the atolls. Captain George Barrett of the Nantucket whaler Independence II has been identified as the first whaler to hunt the waters around Tuvalu. He bartered coconuts from the people of Nukulaelae in November 1821, and also visited Niulakita. A shore camp was established on Sakalua islet of Nukufetau, where coal was used to melt down the whale blubber.

For less than a year between 1862 and 1863, Peruvian ships engaged in the so-called "blackbirding" trade combed the smaller islands of Polynesia from Easter Island in the eastern Pacific to Tuvalu and the southern atolls of the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati), seeking recruits to fill the extreme labour shortage in Peru. While some islanders were voluntary recruits, the "blackbirders" were notorious for enticing islanders on to ships with tricks, such as pretending to be Christian missionaries, as well as kidnapping islanders at gunpoint. The Rev. A. W. Murray, the earliest European missionary in Tuvalu, reported that in 1863 about 170 people were taken from Funafuti and about 250 were taken from Nukulaelae, as there were fewer than 100 of the 300 recorded in 1861 as living on Nukulaelae.

Christianity came to Tuvalu in 1861 when Elekana, a deacon of a Congregational church in Manihiki, Cook Islands, became caught in a storm and drifted for eight weeks before landing at Nukulaelae on 10 May 1861. Elekana began preaching Christianity. He was trained at Malua Theological College, a London Missionary Society (LMS) school in Samoa, before beginning his work in establishing the Church of Tuvalu. In 1865, the Rev. A. W. Murray of the LMS – a Protestant congregationalist missionary society – arrived as the first European missionary, where he too evangelised among the inhabitants of Tuvalu. Protestantism was well established by 1878, with preachers on each island. In the later 19th and early 20th centuries the ministers of what became the Church of Tuvalu (Te Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu) were predominantly Samoans, who influenced the development of the Tuvaluan language and the music of Tuvalu.

The islands came into Britain's sphere of influence in the late 19th century, when each of the Ellice Islands was declared a British protectorate by Captain Gibson of HMS Curacoa, between 9 and 16 October 1892.

Trading firms and traders

Trading companies became active in Tuvalu in the mid-19th century; the trading companies engaged palagi traders who lived on the islands. John (also known as Jack) O'Brien was the first European to settle in Tuvalu; he became a trader on Funafuti in the 1850s. He married Salai, the daughter of the paramount chief of Funafuti. Louis Becke, who later found success as a writer, was a trader on Nanumanga from April 1880 until the trading station was destroyed later that year in a cyclone. He then became a trader on Nukufetau.

In 1892, Captain Davis of HMS Royalist reported on trading activities and traders on each of the islands visited. Captain Davis identified the following traders in the Ellice Group: Edmund Duffy (Nanumea); Jack Buckland (Niutao); Harry Nitz (Vaitupu); Jack O'Brien (Funafuti); Alfred Restieaux and Emile Fenisot (Nukufetau); and Martin Kleis (Nui). During this time, the greatest number of palagi traders lived on the atolls, acting as agents for the trading companies. Some islands would have competing traders, while dryer islands might only have a single trader.

In the later 1890s and into first decade of the 20th century, structural changes occurred in the operation of the Pacific trading companies; they moved from a practice of having traders resident on each island to instead becoming a business operation where the supercargo (the cargo manager of a trading ship) would deal directly with the islanders when a ship visited an island. From 1900, the numbers of palagi traders in Tuvalu declined; the last of them were Fred Whibley on Niutao, Alfred Restieaux on Nukufetau, and Martin Kleis on Nui. By 1909 there were no more resident palagi traders representing the trading companies, although Whibley, Restieaux and Kleis remained in the islands until their deaths.

Scientific expeditions and travellers

The United States Exploring Expedition under Charles Wilkes visited Funafuti, Nukufetau and Vaitupu in 1841. During this expedition, engraver and illustrator Alfred Thomas Agate recorded the dress and tattoo patterns of the men of Nukufetau.

In 1885 or 1886, the New Zealand photographer Thomas Andrew visited Funafuti and Nui.

In 1890, Robert Louis Stevenson, his wife Fanny Vandegrift Stevenson and her son Lloyd Osbourne sailed on the Janet Nicoll, a trading steamer owned by Henderson and Macfarlane of Auckland, New Zealand, which operated between Sydney and Auckland and into the central Pacific. The Janet Nicoll visited three of the Ellice Islands; while Fanny records that they made landfall at Funafuti, Niutao and Nanumea, Jane Resture suggests that it was more likely they landed at Nukufetau rather than Funafuti. An account of this voyage was written by Fanny Stevenson and published under the title The Cruise of the Janet Nichol, together with photographs taken by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne.

In 1894, Count Rudolf Festetics de Tolna, his wife Eila (née Haggin) and her daughter Blanche Haggin visited Funafuti aboard the yacht Le Tolna. The Count spent several days photographing men and woman on Funafuti.

The boreholes on Funafuti, at the site now called Darwin's Drill, are the result of drilling conducted by the Royal Society of London for the purpose of investigating the formation of coral reefs to determine whether traces of shallow water organisms could be found at depth in the coral of Pacific atolls. This investigation followed the work on The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs conducted by Charles Darwin in the Pacific. Drilling occurred in 1896, 1897 and 1898. Professor Edgeworth David of the University of Sydney was a member of the 1896 "Funafuti Coral Reef Boring Expedition of the Royal Society", under Professor William Sollas and lead the expedition in 1897. Photographers on these trips recorded people, communities, and scenes at Funafuti.

Charles Hedley, a naturalist at the Australian Museum, accompanied the 1896 expedition, and during his stay on Funafuti he collected invertebrate and ethnological objects. The descriptions of these were published in Memoir III of the Australian Museum Sydney between 1896 and 1900. Hedley also wrote the General Account of the Atoll of Funafuti, The Ethnology of Funafuti, and The Mollusca of Funafuti. Edgar Waite was also part of the 1896 expedition and published The mammals, reptiles, and fishes of Funafuti.[67] William Rainbow described the spiders and insects collected at Funafuti in The insect fauna of Funafuti.

Harry Clifford Fassett, captain's clerk and photographer, recorded people, communities and scenes at Funafuti in 1900 during a visit of USFC Albatross when the United States Fish Commissionwas investigating the formation of coral reefs on Pacific atolls.

Colonial administration

The Ellice Islands were administered as a British Protectorate from 1892 to 1916, as part of the British Western Pacific Territories (BWPT), by a Resident Commissioner based in the Gilbert Islands. The administration of the BWTP ended in 1916, and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony was established, which existed until 1976.

Second World War

During the Pacific War, Funafuti was used as a base to prepare for the subsequent seaborne attacks on the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) that were occupied by Japanese forces. The United States Marine Corps landed on Funafuti on 2 October 1942 and on Nanumea and Nukufetau in August 1943. The Japanese had already occupied Tarawa and other islands in what is now Kiribati, but were delayed by the losses at the Battle of the Coral Sea. The islanders assisted the American forces to build airfields on Funafuti, Nanumea and Nukufetau and to unload supplies from ships. On Funafuti, the islanders shifted to the smaller islets so as to allow the American forces to build the airfield and to build naval bases and port facilities on Fongafale. A Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees) built a seaplane ramp on the lagoon side of Fongafale islet, for seaplane operations by both short- and long-range seaplanes, and a compacted coral runway was also constructed on Fongafale, with runways also constructed to create Nanumea Airfield and Nukufetau Airfield. USN Patrol Torpedo Boats(PTs) were based at Funafuti from 2 November 1942 to 11 May 1944.

The atolls of Tuvalu acted as staging posts during the preparation for the Battle of Tarawa and the Battle of Makin that commenced on 20 November 1943, which were part of the implementation of "Operation Galvanic". After the war, the military airfield on Funafuti was developed into Funafuti International Airport.

Post-World War II – transition to independence

The formation of the United Nations after World War II resulted in the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization committing to a process of decolonization; as a consequence, the British colonies in the Pacific started on a path to self-determination.

In 1974, the ministerial government was introduced to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony through a change to the Constitution. In that year a general election was held, and a referendum was held in December 1974 to determine whether the Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands should each have their own administration.

As a consequence of the referendum, separation occurred in two stages. The Tuvaluan Order 1975, which took effect on 1 October 1975, recognized Tuvalu as a separate British dependency with its own government. The second stage occurred on 1 January 1976, when separate administrations were created out of the civil service of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.

Elections to the House of Assembly of the British Colony of Tuvalu were held on 27 August 1977, with Toaripi Lauti being appointed Chief Minister in the House of Assembly of the Colony of Tuvalu on 1 October 1977. The House of Assembly was dissolved in July 1978, with the government of Toaripi Lauti continuing as a caretaker government until the 1981 elections were held. Toaripi Lauti became the first Prime Minister on 1 October 1978, when Tuvalu became an independent nation.

Tuvalu became fully independent within the Commonwealth on 1 October 1978. On 5 September 2000, Tuvalu became the 189th member of the United Nations.

Culture

Architecture

The traditional buildings of Tuvalu used plants and trees from the native broadleaf forest, including timber from pouka (Hernandia peltata); ngia or ingiabush (Pemphis acidula); miro (Thespesia populnea); tonga (Rhizophora mucronata); Fau or Fo fafini, or woman's fibre tree (Hibiscus tiliaceus). Fibre is from coconut; ferra, native fig (Ficus aspem); fala, screw pine or Pandanus. The buildings were constructed without nails and were lashed together with a plaited sennit rope that was handmade from dried coconut fibre.

Following contact with Europeans, iron products were used including nails and corrugated roofing material. Modern building in Tuvalu are constructed from imported building materials, including imported timber and concrete.

Church and community buildings (maneapa) are usually coated with white paint that is known as lase, which is made by burning a large amount of dead coral with firewood. The whitish powder that is the result is mixed with water and painted on the buildings.

Art of Tuvalu

The women of Tuvalu use cowrie and other shells in traditional handicrafts. The artistic traditions of Tuvalu have traditionally been expressed in the design of clothing and traditional handicrafts such as the decoration of mats and fans. Crochet (kolose) is one of the art forms practised by Tuvaluan women. The material culture of Tuvalu uses traditional design elements in artefacts used in everyday life such as the design of canoes and fish hooks made from traditional materials. The design of women's skirts (titi), tops (teuga saka), headbands, armbands, and wristbands, which continue to be used in performances of the traditional dance songs of Tuvalu, represents contemporary Tuvaluan art and design.

In 2015, an exhibition was held on Funafuti of the art of Tuvalu, with works that addressed climate change through the eyes of artists and the display of Kope ote olaga (possessions of life), a display of the various artefacts of Tuvalu culture.

Dance and music

The traditional music of Tuvalu consists of a number of dances, including fakaseasea, fakanau and fatele. The fatele, in its modern form, is performed at community events and to celebrate leaders and other prominent individuals, such as the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in September 2012. The Tuvaluan style can be described "as a musical microcosm of Polynesia, where contemporary and older styles co-exist".

Cuisine

The cuisine of Tuvalu is based on the staple of coconut and the many species of fish found in the ocean and lagoons of the atolls. Desserts made on the islands include coconut and coconut milk, rather than animal milk. The traditional foods eaten in Tuvalu are pulaka, taro, bananas, breadfruit and coconut. Tuvaluans also eat seafood, including coconut crab and fish from the lagoon and ocean. Another traditional food source is seabirds (taketake or black noddy and akiaki or white tern), with pork being eaten mostly at fateles (or parties with dancing to celebrate events).

Pulaka is the main source for carbohydrates. Seafood provides protein. Bananas and breadfruit are supplemental crops. Coconut is used for its juice, to make other beverages and to improve the taste of some dishes.

A 1560-square-metre pond was built in 1996 on Vaitupu to sustain aquaculture in Tuvalu.

Flying fish are also caught as a source of food; and as an exciting activity, using a boat, a butterfly net and a spotlight to attract the flying fish.

Heritage

The traditional community system still survives to a large extent on Tuvalu. Each family has its own task, or salanga, to perform for the community, such as fishing, house building or defence. The skills of a family are passed on from parents to children.

Most islands have their own fusi, community-owned shops similar to convenience stores, where canned foods and bags of rice can be purchased. Goods are cheaper, and fusis give better prices for their own produce.

Another important building is the falekaupule or maneapa, the traditional island meeting hall, where important matters are discussed and which is also used for wedding celebrations and community activities such as a fatele involving music, singing and dancing. Falekaupule is also used as the name of the council of elders – the traditional decision-making body on each island. Under the Falekaupule Act, Falekaupule means "traditional assembly in each island...composed in accordance with the Aganu of each island". Aganu means traditional customs and culture.

Traditional single-outrigger canoe

Paopao (from the Samoan language, meaning a small fishing-canoe made from a single log), is the traditional single-outrigger canoe of Tuvalu, of which the largest could carry four to six adults. The variations of single-outrigger canoes that had been developed on Vaitupu and Nanumea were reef-type or paddled canoes; that is, they were designed for carrying over the reef and being paddled, rather than being sailed. Outrigger canoes from Nui were constructed with an indirect type of outrigger attachment and the hull is double-ended, with no distinct bow and stern. These canoes were designed to be sailed over the Nui lagoon. The booms of the outrigger are longer than those found in other designs of canoes from the other islands. This made the Nui canoe more stable when used with a sail than the other designs.

Geography

Tuvalu is a volcanic archipelago, and consists of three reef islands (Nanumanga, Niutao and Niulakita) and six true atolls (Funafuti, Nanumea, Nui, Nukufetau, Nukulaelae and Vaitupu). Its small, scattered group of atolls have poor soil and a total land area of only about 26 square kilometres (10 square miles) making it the fourth smallest country in the world. Over four decades, there had been a net increase in land area of the islets of 73.5 ha (2.9%), although the changes are not uniform, with 74% increasing and 27% decreasing in size. The sea level at the Funafuti tide gauge has risen at 3.9 mm per year, which is approximately twice the global average. The rising sea levels are identified as creating an increased transfer of wave energy across reef surfaces, which shifts sand, resulting in accretion to island shorelines, although this process does not result in additional habitable land.

Funafuti is the largest atoll, and comprises numerous islets around a central lagoon that is approximately 25.1 kilometres (15.6 miles) (N–S) by 18.4 kilometres (11.4 miles) (W-E), centred on 179°7'E and 8°30'S. On the atolls, an annular reef rim surrounds the lagoon with several natural reef channels. Surveys were carried out in May 2010 of the reef habitats of Nanumea, Nukulaelae and Funafuti; a total of 317 fish species were recorded during this Tuvalu Marine Lifestudy. The surveys identified 66 species that had not previously been recorded in Tuvalu, which brings the total number of identified species to 607. Tuvalu's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covers an oceanic area of approximately 900,000 km2.

Tuvalu is a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The predominant vegetation type on the islands of Tuvalu is the cultivated coconut woodland, which covers 43% of the land, the native broadleaf forest is limited to 4.1% of the vegetation types.

Climate

Tuvalu experiences two distinct seasons, a wet season from November to April and a dry season from May to October. Westerly gales and heavy rain are the predominant weather conditions from October to March, the period that is known as Tau-o-lalo, with tropical temperatures moderated by easterly winds from April to November.

Tuvalu experiences the effects of El Niño and La Niña, which is caused by changes in ocean temperatures in the equatorial and central Pacific. El Niño effects increase the chances of tropical storms and cyclones, while La Niña effects increase the chances of drought. Typically the islands of Tuvalu receive between 200 to 400 mm (8 to 16 in) of rainfall per month. However, in 2011, a weak La Niña effect caused a drought by cooling the surface of the sea around Tuvalu.

A state of emergency was declared on 28 September 2011, with rationing of fresh water on the islands of Funafuti and Nukulaelae. Households on Funafuti and Nukulaelae were restricted to two buckets of fresh water per day (40 litres). The governments of Australia and New Zealand responded to the 2011 fresh water crisis by supplying temporary desalination plants, and assisted in the repair of the existing desalination unit that was donated by Japan in 2006. In response to the 2011 drought, Japan funded the purchase of a 100 m3/d desalination plant and two portable 10 m3/d plants as part of its Pacific Environment Community (PEC) program. Aid programs from the European Union and Australia also provided water tanks as part of a longer-term solution for the storage of available fresh water. The La Niña event that caused the drought ended in April–May 2012. The central Pacific Ocean experiences changes from periods of La Niña to periods of El Niño.

Environmental pressures

The eastern shoreline of Funafuti Lagoon on Fongafale was modified during World War II when the airfield (now Funafuti International Airport) was constructed. The coral base of the atoll was used as fill to create the runway. The resulting borrow pits impacted the fresh-water aquifer. In the low-lying areas of Funafuti, the sea water can be seen bubbling up through the porous coral rock to form pools with each high tide. In 2014, the Tuvalu Borrow Pits Remediation (BPR) project was approved so that 10 borrow pits would be filled with sand from the lagoon, leaving Tafua Pond, which is a natural pond. The New Zealand Government funded the BPR project. The project was carried out in 2015, with 365,000 sqm of sand being dredged from the lagoon to fill the holes and improve living conditions on the island. This project increased the usable land space on Fongafale by eight per cent.

During World War II, several piers were also constructed on Fongafale in the Funafuti Lagoon; beach areas were filled and deep-water access channels were excavated. These alterations to the reef and shoreline resulted in changes to wave patterns, with less sand accumulating to form the beaches, compared to former times; the shoreline is now exposed to wave action. Several attempts to stabilise the shoreline have not achieved the desired effect.

The reefs at Funafuti have suffered damage, with 80 percent of the coral becoming bleached as a consequence of the increase in ocean temperatures and ocean acidification. The coral bleaching, which includes staghorn corals, is attributed to the increase in water temperature that happened during the El Niños that occurred between 1998 and 2001. A reef restoration project has investigated reef restoration techniques; and researchers from Japan have investigated rebuilding the coral reefs through the introduction of foraminifera. The project of the Japan International Cooperation Agency is designed to increase the resilience of the Tuvalu coast against sea level rise, through ecosystem rehabilitation and regeneration and through support for sand production.

The rising population has resulted in an increased demand on fish stocks, which are under stress, although the creation of the Funafuti Conservation Area has provided a fishing exclusion area to help sustain the fish population across the Funafuti lagoon. Population pressure on the resources of Funafuti, and inadequate sanitation systems, have resulted in pollution. The Waste Operations and Services Act of 2009 provides the legal framework for waste management and pollution control projects funded by the European Union directed at organic waste composting in eco-sanitation systems. The Environment Protection (Litter and Waste Control) Regulation 2013 is intended to improve the management of the importation of non-biodegradable materials. Plastic waste is a problem in Tuvalu, for much imported food and other commodities are supplied in plastic containers or packaging.

 

Travel to Tuvalu: Lonely Planet

Approaching these islands by plane – after endless miles of rolling ocean – a dazzling smear of turquoise and green appears, ringed with coral and studded with tiny, palm-topped islets, sitting vulnerably in the surrounding waters.

 

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