Leaders For The Long Run: Sibylle Riedmiller

Much of the work in sustainability comes down to highly committed individuals that envision other ways of doing business and lead the way forward to a more sustainable world. The Long Run is lucky to have in their community a large number of leaders in this area. Sibylle Riedmiller is one of these individuals.


Sibylle spent most of her professional life in Latin America and Africa, working with education reform and natural resource management projects with UNESCO, GTZ/GIZ and others.


A passionate sailor and diver, Sibylle lives in Tanga/Tanzania since 1982, where she is now semi-retired. As Board member of the Hotel Association of Tanzania (HAT) and the Tanga Tourism Network Association (TATONA), she works for improved stakeholder participation in natural resource management and marine governance in Tanzania.

From 1991, Sibylle Riedmiller developed award-winning Chumbe Island Coral Park in Zanzibar, a privately managed marine park and forest reserve that is now fully funded with income from ecotourism. In 2011, Chumbe was certified as a Long Run GER(R) by the Zeitz Foundation.


From Aid Project Manager to Investor in Marine Conservation


After working as an aid project manager and consultant for nearly 2 decades, one of them in Tanzania, Sibylle Riedmiller felt disillusioned by the lack of sustainability and failure of most aid projects implemented through government. And as passionate sailor and diver, she was also frustrated by the rampant destruction of coral reefs by dynamite fishing in Tanzania. Tanzania had no marine protected areas in the country at the time, nor any legal provisions for marine conservation. One reason was the lack of coastal and marine tourism, there was no lobby for sustainable marine governance.


Therefore, Sibylle believed that the future of marine conservation in Tanzania was in the hands of the private sector, in particular tourism.


A window of opportunity opened in 1990, when Zanzibar started inviting foreign investment into tourism. During a consultancy for an Environmental Education plan in Zanzibar, Sibylle found little awareness about coral reefs among Zanzibari people, coral reefs were not covered in school syllabi and there was no legislation for marine protected areas.


Therefore, she developed and lobbied for a business plan for a privately established marine park used for environmental education and funded by eco-tourism. This, however, met little official interest.


Sibylle did not give up. For two months she went out with local fishers around Zanzibar searching for a suitable coral reef for her investment plan, and finally ‘discovered’ Chumbe Island, eight miles southwest of Zanzibar Town. This uninhabited fossil coral island of approximately 20 ha, is covered by coral rag forest and bordered on its western shore by a fringing coral reef of exceptional biodiversity and beauty. Similar to other historic sites in Zanzibar it appeared an abandoned place with signs of passed glory, such as an old lighthouse built during colonial rule in 1904, and other ruined historical buildings. The lighthouse was no longer functioning, though a lighthouse keeper was still on the payroll of the Harbours Authority but had not been residing on the island.


Further research revealed that fishing was traditionally not allowed on Chumbe’s western side, as small boats would have obstructed vessels plying the shipping channel to Dar es Salaam, the capital of mainland Tanzania. Traditionally, the sea surrounding the island was a military area where the army routinely conducted shooting range exercises from the adjacent coast. In addition, few boatmen could then afford an outboard engine to go to this most distant of the islets surrounding Zanzibar town. As no traditional users were to be displaced, conditions appeared ideal for the creation of a marine park that depended on co-operation with local fishermen, not government enforcement.


Therefore, in 1991, Sibylle started campaigning for the protection of the island and presented a business plan that would establish Chumbe Island as a privately managed marine park financed through ecotourism. This required lengthy negotiations with seven Zanzibar government departments, as the investment proposal included the condition that the Government of Zanzibar should declare the western fringing coral reef and island forest protected areas.


Finally, in 1993, the Government of Zanzibar approved the investment proposal and gazetted the Chumbe Reef Sanctuary and Forest Reserve in 1994 and 1995.

The Establishment of CHICOP


Sibylle registered Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd. (CHICOP) for the management of the reserve and leased small plot on the island for development and signed management agreements for the Chumbe Reef Sanctuary and the Chumbe Forest Reserve. It took another 4 years to develop the ecotourism infrastructure on the island until, after 8 years of development, Chumbe Island Coral Park could finally open in 1998.


Over the last two decades, Sibylle has succeeded in developing Chumbe Island into a fully managed nature reserve where the model of ecologically and socially sustainable marine park management provides high-quality services to visitors while conserving biodiversity and promoting environmental awareness through environmental education (EE) programs for local communities. And all of this work is achieved entirely financially sustainably. The eco-lodge (seven guest bungalows, education center and staff quarters) is constructed according to state of the art eco-architecture including rainwater catchment, vegetative gray water filtration, composting toilets, solar water heating and photovoltaic power generation.


The Environmental Education programs offer free island excursions, training workshops and peer education sessions for students, teachers and community members that help to close the gap between theoretical knowledge and practice and seek solutions to environmental concerns that build on indigenous knowledge and traditions. By the year 2015, over 6400 school children and 1100 teachers had visited Chumbe and our rangers, who are mostly former fishermen and employed since 1992, have become great stewards of the reef sanctuary and fantastic educators of their fellow fishers, making them aware of the benefit of a small reef turned into a breeding ground for fishes that helped restock overfished fishing grounds.


View Sibylle Riedmiller’s TEDx Talk on Chumbe Island below.

Click to view more information and further videos of Chumbe Island Coral Park.

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