Chumbe Island Coral Park

A comeback reef and a kingdom by the sea

Mar 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

THE HANDFUL OF SNORKELERS who swim Chumbe Island's coral reefs will eventually meet Oscar, a three-foot potato cod, and Louise, a hawksbill turtle. Chumbe, the world's first privately managed marine sanctuary, is an uninhabited 54-acre island eight miles off the coast of Zanzibar that uses the profits from ecotourism to conserve its endangered coral reef and forest reserve. Since 1994, when the Zanzibari government closed the half-mile reef to fishing and officially declared it a protected haven, locals who used to fish the island have worked as park rangers, guarding the reef against poachers.
"The former fishermen, who are now our park rangers and guides, were the key to raising awareness about marine ecology and sustainable management of natural resources," says London native Eleanor Carter, Chumbe's project manager. "Local community members, including women from rural Muslim societies, have been given preference for employment. We had some not-so-happy husbands at the beginning, but they got used to it."

Aside from basking in solitude on the two-mile sandbar that appears at low tide, guests skin-dive among the Indian Ocean's parrot fish, lobsters, stingrays, dolphins, and unicorn fish; hike past baobab trees and into a virgin coral forest with 15,000-year-old petrified clams and spiky euphorbia; and take nighttime nature walks to look for endangered giant coconut crabs.
The seven triangular thatch-roofed bungalows have solar-powered lighting, composting toilets, and gray-water recycling systems. Roofs are designed to channel rainwater to underground cisterns where it's filtered, solar-heated, and then hand-pumped by staffers to the bungalows' showers. The cabins are decorated with African art and textiles and stocked with organic soaps and shampoos made by a local women's cooperative. The island's chef cooks up Zanzibari, African, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisine, all made from local produce and seafood.
Since the island became an official marine sanctuary, fish population and diversity have increased. Contact: Chumbe Island Coral Park, 011-255-24223-1040, Cost: From $150 per person per day; includes lodging, meals, snorkeling, and guided dives.

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