Chumbe Island Coral Park, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Since 1991, Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd. (CHICOP), an award-winning private nature reserve, was developed for the conservation and sustainable management of an uninhabited island off Zanzibar, one of the last pristine coral islands in the region.
The park includes a fully protected coral reef sanctuary and forest reserve, a visitor and education centre, an eco-lodge, nature trails and historical ruins. All buildings and operations are based on state-of-the-art eco-technology aiming at zero impact on the environment.
The company objectives are non-commercial, while operations follow commercial principles. The overall aim of CHICOP is to create a model of financially and ecologically sustainable Park management, where ecotourism supports conservation, research and comprehensive environmental education programs for local schools and many other benefits for local people. Chumbe provides a valuable experience in marketing protected areas. The project yield many insights on financial sustainability in the management of protected areas in Zanzibar and elsewhere. Experience learnt in Chumbe contributes to the development of a sustainable protected areas system in Zanzibar and in the wider east African region.
View images of the park
Flora and Fauna
Chumbe Island is a safe haven for yet unidentified flora and fauna typical of intertidal reef flats and coral rag forests which are little researched and rapidly diminishing elsewhere in Zanzibar and Tanzania. It contributes to biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration, by effectively protecting a coral reef which has at least 90% of the scleractinian coral species ever recorded in East Africa. The Sanctuary is a refuge for hawksbill turtles. The forest harbors the world's largest known population of the rare Coconut Crab Birgus latro. The undisturbed reef flora and fauna of Chumbe Island allows for successful breeding of rare migrant birds, such as the Roseate tern Sterna dougalli. The island also offers an ideal breeding sanctuary for the critically endangered Ader’s duiker Cephalophus adersi, the rarest antelope in the world.
Ecotourism and Education in Chumbe
Sleeping capacity is 5000 nights a year while daily visits to the park are limited with the passage over the reef regulated to avoid any damage to corals by boats crossing over at low tide. The former lighthouse keepers' house has been carefully restored and converted into a Visitors' Centre. Park rangers offer daily guided snorkelling tours in the Reef Sanctuary, and walks along intertidal, mangrove pool and forest trails. The Visitors' Centre also includes a classroom for local schoolchildren. Research is co-ordinated with the Institute of Marine Sciences of the University of Dar es Salaam and regulated by the Chumbe Island Management Plans. Thus, CHICOP combines sustainable conservation area management, research and monitoring, environmental education for local schoolchildren and ecotourism.
Benefiting the community:
Chumbe island is located near the most important fishing grounds opposite Zanzibar town. The sanctuary provides a protected breeding ground for fish, corals and other species. The marine park allows recreation (swimming, snorkelling, underwater photography), education and research while extractive and destructive activities, such as fishing, anchorage, collection of specimen (even for research) are forbidden.
The Chumbe rangers, former fishermen themselves have no policing powers, but they have been particularly successful in educating fishermen about the nature of corals and coral reefs and about the purpose of a marine protected area as a breeding ground for fish. Since 1995, infringements of the park regulations have decreased drastically, as a majority of fishermen agree that spill over has occurred.
Training and employing
Since 1992, over ten former fishermen have been trained as Park Rangers in marine park management and monitoring techniques for the reef and the forest. They have also learned English and gained the knowledge needed to guide both local and foreign visitors on the island. CHICOP has also trained rangers who were then posted in similar projects in the region.
CHICOP has 43 full-time staff, 63% from adjacent communities, 32% from other areas in Tanzania and 5% expatriate. Tanzanians now hold all management positions on Chumbe Island. According to a recent study of the International Finance Corporation, Chumbe employs 200% more staff than the international average staff-room ratio for eco lodges. A third of 46 employees are directly involved in conservation management and education. Local staff have real career opportunities. (The Maintenance Manager, started working with the project in 1994 as an unskilled manual labourer). Ten years ago, two positions of expatriates were ‘africanised’, and in addition, the international recognition of the Chumbe project has given staff opportunities for travel and fame unrivalled in Zanzibar. For example, the Chumbe Head Ranger, a former fisherman himself, represented the project in London/UK and in Adelaide/Australia, for receiving the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Global Award 1999 and the 2000 UNEP Global500 Award respectively.
Chumbe contributes to capacity building of government staff from different departments involved in project negotiations and activities and in the Advisory Committee. Over the years, over seven Government departments were involved with issues concerning the establishment and management of the reserve. During the rat eradication campaign in 1997, staff of the Plant Protection Division and a trainee, supported by the EC-funded EDG conservation project in Zanzibar were trained on the technicalities of rodent control in nature reserves, and could then assist doing a similar job on Misali Island in Pemba.
Chumbe offers valuable research opportunities for Tanzanian and foreign research institutions. The Institute of Marine Sciences and other foreign academic institutions conduct regular long-term research activities that are only possible in protected areas. For the academic community, Chumbe is of extremely high value, as research plots and equipment are safe from theft and tampering in the Chumbe Reef Sanctuary, and conditions are ideal to compare an effectively protected reef with unprotected reefs.
Chumbe has created unique facilities for Environmental Education for schoolchildren and other visitors. Nature trails and educational materials (in Kiswahili and English) have been developed about the forest and the reef, and from 1994 many excursions have been organised through the Department of Environment, then based on the initiative of a VSO-volunteer responsible for environmental clubs in schools. The program is now organized through the Zanzibar Ministry of Education.
Chumbe also offers unique learning opportunities for girls. Zanzibar is a predominantly Islamic country where the dress code for women is very conservative. As a result, women do not learn how to swim and are the first to drown when boats capsize. The Environmental Education Program encourages schoolgirls to learn how to swim and snorkel in coral reefs, while respecting local sensitivities.
Using local ecological and sustainable products
The Chumbe Island Project has from its outset been committed to ecologically sustainable architecture and operations that have close to zero impact on the sensitive terrestrial and marine ecology. Each building functions as a self-sufficient unit that generates its own water and energy, with rainwater catchment and filtration, solar water heating and photovoltaic electricity. All buildings were constructed with local natural renewable materials and technologies, thus benefiting local artisans and primary producers. For example, palm-thatched roofs give small farmers a new market for coconut trees, a formerly neglected crop. CHICOP also buys food supplies directly from fishers and farmers in local markets, rather than purchasing products of the international food industry that are now increasingly imported into the country.
Chumbe co-operates with the Harbours Authority to keep the Chumbe lighthouse functioning. In the absence of Port staff on the island, the rangers act as lighthouse keepers. The Port Authority regularly calls the island to ask the rangers for assistance. This service is particularly important for the traditional shipping traffic (dhows), which have no access to modern navigational aids, such as GPS. As there is no maritime rescue service available in Tanzania, the assistance given by the Chumbe rangers to fishermen is crucial. Rangers also provide radio communication from the island.Rangers in Chumbe have helped out in more than a hundred occasions.
Chumbe as model of financially sustainable conservation area management.
Chumbe Island combines sustainable tourism with sustainable conservation area management. Since 1998, when CHICOP started commercial operations, the park has received a steadily increasing flow of visitors from the specialized eco tourism market. The massive international publicity gained with the many prestigious international awards for environment and socially responsible tourism has helped to market Zanzibar as an attractive eco tourism destination. This helps generate income for the government for the conservation and management of marine resources in general. While most protected areas around the world are dependent on, scarce financial support from Governments or donor agencies, the revenue generated from small-scale but high value ecotourism on Chumbe Island provides for the Park management and the conservation and education programs.
In strictly commercial terms, Chumbe is not very profitable About a third of the operational costs of Chumbe are spent on conservation management staff and programs and Chumbe is taxed like any other tourism enterprise, with no exemption or tax incentive for the conservation and education work done. The capital payback has been delayed for many years. A project like Chumbe therefore still depends on committed conservation-minded individuals or companies to invest in it.