Tuvalu is a sovereign state consisting of six coral atolls and three islands in the South Pacific; Nanumea, Nanumanga, Niutao, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, Nukulaelae, and Niulakita. The Polynesian nation covers 24 square kilometres in total. Earliest human settlement dates to the arrival of the Lapita culture around 1500 BC, from the neighbouring Pacific islands. Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira first sighted the islands in 1568, and in 1764 British Captain John Byron charted the area. The islands were named Ellice Islands by Captain Arent Schuyler de Peyster, under the British flag in 1819. During the nineteenth century, whalers and traders established themselves in the region. The Ellice Islands were declared a British protectorate in 1892, and a member of the British Western Pacific Territories. In 1916, it formally became part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony, until a referendum in 1975 separated both island groups, with the Gilbert Islands becoming Kiribati. Tuvalu declared its independence within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1978. The capital and largest city is Funafuti. Estimated population of Tuvalu in the 2012 was 10,837.