Tuvalu ( or ), formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, midway between Hawaii and Australia. 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. Its nearest neighbours are Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa and Fiji. Tuvalu has a population of 10,837. The total land area of the islands of Tuvalu is . The first inhabitants of Tuvalu were Polynesians. 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. In 1819 the island of Funafuti was named Ellice’s Island; the name Ellice was applied to all nine islands after the work of English hydrographer Alexander George Findlay (1812–1876). The islands came under Britain’s sphere of influence in the late 19th century, when each of the Ellice Islands was declared a British protectorate by Captain Gibson R.N., of , between 9 and 16 October 1892. The Ellice Islands were administered as British protectorate by a Resident Commissioner from 1892 to 1916 as part of the British Western Pacific Territories (BWPT), and later as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony from 1916 to 1974. 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 17 September 2000 Tuvalu became the 189th member of the United Nations.