Location of the Fongafale island in the Funafuti atoll
Fongafale (also spelled Fogale or Fagafale) is the largest of Funafuti's islets in Tuvalu. It is a long narrow sliver of land, 12 kilometres long and between 10 and 400 metres wide, with the South Pacific Ocean and reef on the east and the protected lagoon on the west. The north part is the Tengako peninsula and Funafuti International Airport runs from northeast to southwest on the widest part of the island with the village and administrative centre of Vaiaku on the lagoon side.
In 1972 Funafuti was in the path of Cyclone Bebe. Cyclone Bebe knocked down 90% of the houses and trees on Fongafale. The storm surge created a wall of coral rubble along the ocean side of Fongafale and Funafala that was about 10 miles (16 km) long, and about 10 feet (3.0 m) to 20 feet (6.1 m) thick at the bottom.
Villages on Fongafale
There are four neighbourhoods (officially villages, which appear as one contiguous urban area):
Vaiaku is the most important, most southern and most western neighbourhood, which includes the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel (the only hotel of the country, there are also a few guesthouses), some shops, a fuelpump station, the general post office and the National Bank of Tuvalu, which is Tuvalu's only commercial bank. The villages has a surface area of more than 0.65 square kilometres and have about 4,000 inhabitants.
Parliament of Tuvalu and government buildings
The Parliament of Tuvalu or Palamene o Tuvalu is located on Fongafale and the house of the Governor General of Tuvalu. The buildings located on Fongafale include the offices of the government ministries and the government agencies such as the Tuvalu Philatelic Bureau, the Tuvalu Meteorological Service, the National Bank of Tuvalu, the offices of the Tuvalu Telecommunications Corporation and the Tuvalu Media Corporation. The Tuvalu Media Department operates radio services as Radio Tuvalu.
The police service has its headquarters on Fongafale. The High Court of Tuvalu is also located on Fongafale, as well as the jail. The Princess Margaret Hospital, which is the only hospital in Tuvalu, is located on Fongafale. Other significant buildings located on Fongafale are the co-operative shop, Tausoa Maneapa (city hall) and Fetu Ao Lima (Morning Star Church) of the Church of Tuvalu.
There are four taxis, and motorbikes are available for hire.
Access to the Funafuti Conservation Area is by boat; the Conservation Area is 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) across the lagoon from the main island of Fongafale.
There are port facilities on Fongafale. There are two passenger/cargo ships, Nivaga II and Manu Folau, which provide round trip visits to the outer islands every three or four weeks and which also travel between Suva, Fiji and Funafuti 3 to 4 times a year.
Aquifer salinization of Fongafale
The investigation of groundwater dynamics of Fongafale Islet, Funafuti, show that tidal forcing results in salt water contamination of the surficial aquifer during spring tides. The degree of aquifer salinization depends on the specific topographic characteristics and the hydrologic controls in the sub-surface of the atoll. About half of Fongafale islet is reclaimed swamp that contains porous, highly permeable coral blocks that allow the tidal forcing of salt water. There was extensive swamp reclamation during World War II to create the air field that is now the Funafuti International Airport. As a consequence of the specific topographic characteristics of Fongafale, unlike other atoll islands of a similar size, Fongafale does not have a thick freshwater lens. The narrow fresh water and brackish water sheets in the sub-surface of Fongafale islet results in the taro swamps and the fresh groundwater resources of the islet being highly vulnerable to salinization resulting from the rising sea-level.
A survey of the pits that have previously been used to grow Swamp taro (Cyrtosperma chamissonis), (known in Tuvalu as Pulaka) established that the pits were either too saline or very marginal for swamp taro production, although a more salt tolerant species of taro (Colocasia esculenta) is grown on Fongafale.
Over-extraction of groundwater and pollution
In addition to the increased risk of salinized by the sea-level rise, the freshwater lens is at risk from over extraction due to the large population that now occupies Fongafale islet; the increased extraction can be exacerbated by a decrease of the rainfall recharge rate associated with the climate change. Water pollution is also a chronic problem, with domestic wastewater identified as the primary pollution source. Approximately 92% of households on Fongafale islet have access to septic tanks and pit toilets. However these sanitary facilities are not built as per the design specifications or they are not suitable for the geophysical characteristics, which results in seepage into the fresh water lens and run off into coastal waters.
A project involving the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) is constructing composting toilets and improving the treatment of sewage sludge from septic tanks on Fongafale in order to reduct the leakage from septic tanks into groundwater and the ocean and lagoon.
In November 2013 the World Bank announced US$6 million in funding to improve the operational safety of the Funafuti International Airport and associated infrastructure. An 800,000 litre water cistern will be constructed to improve storage of drinking water.
Borrow Pits Remediation (BPR) project
When the airfield, which is now Funafuti International Airport, was constructed during World War II. 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 areas of Funafuti the sea water can be seen bubbling up through the porous coral rock to form pools with each high tide. Since 1994 a project has been in development to assess the environmental impact of transporting sand from the lagoon to fill all the borrow pits and low-lying areas on Fongafale. In 2013 a feasibility study was carried out and in 2014 the Tuvalu Borrow Pits Remediation (BPR) project was approved, which will result in all 10 borrow pits being filled, 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 increase the usable land space on Fongafale by eight per cent.
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