When the world ground to a halt earlier this year, leaving lodges and operators staring down a long ...
ZANZIBAR ISLAND, TANZANIA
Chumbe Island Coral Park (CHICOP) is an award-winning private nature park eight miles southwest of Zanzibar, Tanzania. CHICOP was developed in 1991 when the formerly uninhabited Chumbe Island was recognised to be one of the last pristine coral islands in the region. The reserve now includes a fully protected coral reef sanctuary, forest reserve, education centre and state-of-the-art ecolodge, designed to have zero impact on the environment. Besides from the 81-acre coral reef — home to 90% of East Africa’s hard coral species and 400 reef fish species — rare wildlife protected on and around the island includes the coconut crab, green turtle, Ader’s duiker (antelope) and humpback whale.
In 2011 Chumbe Island became the first Global Ecosphere Retreat to be certified by The Long Run, having created a financially and ecologically sustainable park, where ecotourism supports conservation and research. Community outreach and education is at the heart of CHICOP’s approach; local fishermen are trained as park rangers and the Chumbe Environmental Education program provides free island excursions to children, teachers, community groups and government officials.
Chumbe Island’s seven bungalows were constructed by local builders using natural materials, offering visitors an open-air existence with Indian Ocean views and complete privacy. Where possible, interiors, food and drink have been sourced locally, often supporting co-operatives like the up-cycling artists at Creative Solutions. Environmental technology for each bungalow includes rainwater catchment, photovoltaic energy, composting toilets and greywater filtration.
Chumbe Island joined The Long Run in 2011 and committed to a holistic balance of the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce – as a means to contribute meaningfully to the biodiversity and the people of their local region.
Being a privately initiated and managed nature reserve, Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd (CHICOP) is committed to achieving the highest standards of professional park management, environmental best practice, and sustainable tourism. The conservation of Zanzibar’s biodiversity and habitats was the primary reason for the initial establishment of the company. All the commercial activities at Chumbe are geared towards supporting and providing sustainable finance for this primary conservation goal.
In keeping with this goal, Chumbe has from 1991 negotiated an investment into private nature conservation, and thus worked with local government bodies to designate the Chumbe western coral reef and the coral-rag forest covering the island as protected areas of exceptionally high conservation value entirely self-funded through ecotourism. As a condition for the investment, it has secured the legal rights to manage, for conservation purposes, the newly created Chumbe Island Reef Sanctuary and Closed Forest Habitat, a task it has been carrying out dutifully since 1994 and 1995 respectively, backed by detailed Management Plans 1995-2016. To manage these areas, Chumbe maintains boundary markers delineating the reef sanctuary and has stationed Rangers on the island who do regular patrols of both the reef and forest looking out for illegal fishing and other activities, and also actively monitor the reef and the forest reserves. For this, they were trained and are supervised by scientists particularly employed for these tasks. Invasive and destructive species have been removed in special programs in both the Reef Sanctuary (such as Crown of Thorns starfish) and the forest habitat (e.g. Indian house crows and common rats) In co-operation with local and international research organizations, zoos and the Zanzibar government, Chumbe has also created breeding sanctuaries for endangered and rare species on the island, such as the elusive Aders duiker and Coconut crabs, among others.
Chumbe’s sustainable approach is further demonstrated in its architecture and in the way it runs its tourist facilities. As there is no freshwater source on the island, the roofs of the main building (which comprises the reception, lounge, dining room and visitor centre) and the guest cottages have been designed to harvest the maximum possible amount of rainwater. The collected rainwater passes through a sand filtration system into underground cisterns , from where it is pumped by hand to storage tanks above the bathrooms. The dry composting toilets use no water and thus totally avoid sewage. Wastewater generated on the island is only grey water, emanating from the guest bathrooms and kitchens which are disposed of to the natural environment via vegetative filtration systems, where specialised plants absorb the unwanted nutrients.
In a bid to impart its knowledge of best practice and contribute to the wider body of research with regards to the preservation of marine habitats, Chumbe strongly encourages and facilitates research on its premises by a variety of national and international researchers and students.
The promotion of sustainable resource use practices in the fishing communities adjacent to the
Chumbe provides the important link between Chumbe’s biodiversity and habitat conservation work and its commitment to support sustainable community livelihoods. Chumbe has from the outset made strong efforts to build good relationships with neighbouring communities and to enlist their support for the conservation efforts it spearheads. Fortunately, a no-take coral reef quickly encourages the undisturbed reproduction of fishes and other marine organisms, and thus helps to restock adjacent overfished areas. This then directly benefits local fishers with increased catches, the so-called spill-over effect, which was the main focus of the Rangers’ educational work with local fishers during the first years, and seeing this benefit become reality has helped tremendously to win support for the marine park.
In addition to this, Chumbe has set up an Environmental Education Programme, which is chiefly aimed at school children and their teachers but has also helped awareness‐raising about coral reef conservation and sustainable fisheries with local fishing communities, the general public and, last but not least, government authorities of all levels. Under the Programme children from Zanzibar schools take free field trips to Chumbe Island, where the Rangers teach them how to snorkel in the Reef Sanctuary, take them along forest nature trails and also give them an introduction into coral reef ecology and environmental issues, including climate change. These school excursions are accompanied by training workshops for teachers, so that they can prepare well and follow up these excursions in the classroom. As part of activities carried out under the Environmental Education Programme, Chumbe’s rangers routinely make a series of direct visits to neighbouring fishing communities to hold discussions with fishermen and local leaders about the marine and forest conservation, environmental management and the need for sustainable fishing methods. For scaling up these programs, Chumbe has in 2010 also initiated a Community Outreach Project which was funded by ReCoMaP4 and implemented in collaboration with several local community development NGOs. The Outreach Program is centred on promoting environmental stewardship and sustainable resource use practices in selected villages throughout Zanzibar.
Chumbe also provides direct employment to neighbouring communities with approximately 95% of its staff being Tanzanians and 60% of Zanzibari origin. As a fully managed park, Chumbe is very labour-intensive, and has created positions for Park rangers, biologists and educators, thus employing 200% more staff than the international average staff-room ratio for ecolodges.
Further building on the benefits of community collaboration and cooperation, Chumbe directly engages the community in its affairs by including community leaders from neighbouring Zanzibar villages in its Advisory Committee, which convenes twice a year, and is also attended by representatives of government and research institutions.
Finally, in the absence of any sea rescue institution, Chumbe provides life-saving emergency and rescue services for local fishers and seafarers, and also makes sure that the lighthouse is kept functioning, which provides important navigational services to the local traditional age-old wooden dhow cargo ships, which do not have modern navigational aids such as GPS and radar.
Zanzibar is a land of great historical and cultural value and the centre of the vibrant East African Swahili culture. Its architecture and the way of life of its people attest to this. Chumbe Island itself hosts monuments of significant historical value. These are a mosque and lighthouse – built by the British together with the Sultan of Zanzibar – both of which are over 100 years old. Chumbe actively engages with local government bodies and contributes to the maintenance of these two edifices.
Chumbe continually supports and promotes traditional Zanzibari cultural practices especially those related to the sustainable use of marine resources and environmental stewardship. It encourages the preservation of a number of plant and animal species that are important in terms of their medicinal, religious or livelihood value. Similarly, it provides a market for many locally produced crafts that are conservation‐friendly, such as palm-thatched roofs, palm‐weave or coir baskets and mats, which are used in the buildings and adorn the room interiors, and are also offered for sale to guests through its boutique, together with local textiles and artwork.
Zanzibari culture is further celebrated in Chumbe’s operations through its cuisine (lunch and dinner menus are typically Zanzibari). Taking things a notch higher, Chumbe has produced a cookbook entitled “Chumbe Chakula” – Kiswahili for Chumbe Food – which describes a variety of Zanzibari meals that are prepared at the lodge. In addition, staff uniforms are based on traditional fabrics and costumes (kitenge and khanzus).
Through its education and awareness activities, Chumbe has prepared an educational guide book on Environmental Sustainability in Zanzibar for schools and local communities that includes references to how the Koran promotes conservation and environmental best practices, and a list of related key Kiswahili phrases. All of Chumbe’s cultural activities are promoted through newsletters and on its website. In addition, it actively participates in Zanzibari cultural, musical and film events that are held every year on Unguja Island.
Commerce has always been viewed by Chumbe’s owners and managers as a means to achieve its conservation and awareness goals, rather than as an end in itself. As a vibrant, successful and innovative company Chumbe Island Coral Park is acknowledged as a world leader in many of the approaches it has pioneered and the activities it is implementing. It has been greatly successful as a sustainable tourist destination – the benefits of which have been shared with neighbouring communities whose livelihoods and ability to rely on environmental resources have vastly improved as a result of Chumbe’s numerous interventions.
Last but not least, the work of Chumbe has now been recognized by the UN Secretary General in his report to the General Assembly on Protection of coral reefs for sustainable livelihoods and development, in preparation for the Rio+20 – United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 4-6 June 2012. Under the heading “The role of national legislation in protecting coral reefs (including importance of inclusion of indigenous/local communities)” on Page 21, the report says: “A noted example for PES (Payment for Ecosystem Services) within the context of coral reefs habitat is the private, non-profit Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd (CHICOP) in Tanzania. The Government of Zanzibar established a protected area around the island and its fringing coral reef in 1994 and gave the management rights to CHICOP, which is responsible for implementing the CHICOP Management Plans 1995-2016.”
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