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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Tourists to the rescue on Chumbe Island

Extract from UNESCO Sources (131) published February, 2001, page 1

— The rare Coconut Crab 
(Birgus latro) is flourishing 
(© Michael Pütsch)

Chumbe Island in Tanzania is turning into an innovative model for wise practice in coastal management. Often called the “rainforests of the sea”, coral reefs feed millions of people and harbour a biodiversity that we still know very little about. But they are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Overfishing and destructive fishing practices, coral mining, water pollution, siltation and sewage run-off from coastal development, the trade in live aquarium fish, corals and shells are damaging and killing coral reefs at an unprecedented rate – not to mention climate changes, such as global warming.

But there are few success stories of effective coral reef conservation. Conflicting interests of user groups, lack of public awareness, political will, limited management capacity and resources have turned many marine protected areas into so-called paper parks that have no management on the ground. This is particularly so in the developing world where most coral reefs are found.

Despite the great economic potential of tourism in nature reserves, central government agencies in many African and Asian countries have found it difficult to manage such reserves sustainably.

Innovative partnerships for their sustainable management have to be forged, above all calling upon the direct resource users who have a potential interest in the survival of a particular coral reef. In many parts of the world, these are fishers and tourism operators.

Fishermen have become 
park rangers
(© Heinz Heile)  

One successful example of such an alliance is a private initiative, the Chumbe Island Project (username: csi; password: wise) in Tanzania. A small uninhabited coral island of about 22 hectares off the coast of Zanzibar, Chumbe is now a fully protected area, established and managed by a private company set up in 1991. Though privately funded (with donor input covering about a third of the investment costs), the project is non-profit-oriented. Revenue from ecotourism is re-invested in conservation area management. After ten years of struggle for survival, the park is now able to depend on this.

Local fishermen trained by the project as park rangers have been able to convince their fellow fishermen that the protected area serves their own best interest as a breeding ground for fish. This is no mean feat, since in the Tanzanian local language, Kiswahili, corals are often referred to as “mawe na miamba”, which means “rocks and stones” – which is how fishermen often treat them.

The park also offers environmental education to local schoolchildren who visit the island regularly. They are taken around the snorkeling and forest trails by the park rangers. Girls in particular greatly enjoy learning how to snorkle – something they are not normally encouraged to do in the predominantly Muslim society of Zanzibar.

Sibylle Riedmiller
Project Director, Chumbe Island Coral Park, Ltd.

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