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Chumbe Island Coral Park: A unique nature experience, eco-lodge and best Zanzibar snorkeling spot

24 Apr

CHICOP is an award-winning private nature reserve that was developed from 1991 for the conservation and sustainable management of uninhabited Chumbe 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 that harbour extremely rare and endangered animals, a Visitor and Education centre, a small 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 (rainwater catchment, photovoltaic energy and solar water heating, composting toilets, vegetative greywater filtration etc.).

 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 other benefits for local people.

 After the discovery of Chumbe’s incredibly bio-diverse reef eco-system several years of campaigning by CHICOP succeeded in officially closing the fringing reef West of Chumbe Island in October 1992. With Chumbe being located upstream of the most important fishing grounds opposite Zanzibar’s capital, Stonetown, the Chumbe reef provides a protected breeding ground for fish, corals and other species which can then spread out to recolonise nearby overfished and degraded areas.

A network of nature trails crisscross the southern part of the virgin coral rag forest that covers about 90% of Chumbe.

The bedrock of the island is made up of an impressive substrate of fossilized coral. You can still see the skeletal structures of corals and giant clams – a gentle reminder of the passage of time. More staggering still is the coral-rag forest. On Chumbe a highly specialised plant community has developed that survives without any groundwater. Instead some of these remarkably adapted trees depend on capturing moisture from the humidity in the air while others are able to store away months’ supply of water during the rainy season. You will notice leaves that are either fleshy and waxy, or fold up during the heat of the day to reduce transpiration, and spiky euphorbia thrusts forth wherever it can get a stronghold. The dense canopy keeps the scorching sun out of the forest where aerial roots tangle and compete to form the incredibly dense matrix of this special forest habitat. To watch out for:

•observe the rare giant Coconut Crabs -Birgus latro-. They can reach up to 45 cm in diameter! These invertebrates roam about at night and are able to climb palm trees to reach their sought-after coconuts.

•identify the best examples of petrified stone corals and giant clams that are 15,000 years old, in the rocky lunar landscape on the eastern side of the island where salt sprays from the sea prevent vegetation.

Being a Marine Protected Area (MPA) the focal aim of the Chumbe Island Coral Park Project is to preserve Chumbe Island’s exceptional environment. Therefore accommodation is based on the state-of-the-art of eco-architecture and eco-technology.

• As there is no ground water source in the rocky substrate of the island, each bungalow collects its own freshwater supply from rainwater (captured from the specially designed expanse of roof) during the rainy season. This rainwater passes through a complex filtration system and is stored in spacious underground cisterns (under each living room). The water is then hand-pumped  through a solar-powered heating system into hot & cold-water containers for the shower and hand basin in the bathroom.

•The used water from showers and basins is filtered through particulate filters, ending in specially sealed plant beds so that no polluted water will seep into the Reef Sanctuary. These beds are planted with species that are demanding in water and nutrients, and therefore easily absorb any remaining nitrates and phosphates.

•To deal with sewage composting toilets have been also installed . These eco-toilets prevent sewage (from septic tanks) seeping through the porous ground into the Reef Sanctuary, (as this would lead to pollution of the fragile reef ecosystem, encourage algae growth and finally kill coral communities and organisms depending on them). Instead, human waste is quickly decomposed to natural fertilizer when mixed with compost (aerobic composting) in the compost chamber.

•Lights are powered by photovoltaic panels on the roof that provide ample environmentally friendly 12V energy for normal usage. The open design of the bungalows, with minimal barriers to the open air, allows for maximum through-draft for cooling of the bungalows; a form of natural air-conditioning. To enhance this louvres are in place that can be lowered or closed depending on the desired temperature.

Last, but not least, dining takes place  under the roof of the visitor’s centre, which overlooks the  sea between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania. The chefs provide an  abundant supply of mouth-watering dishes that are a mixture of  Zanzibarian, Arabic, Indian and African tastes and satisfy both  vegetarians and non-vegetarians.