Why Chumbe Island Coral Park is Africa’s Most Sustainable Hotel
Situated off the coast of Tanzania. Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd is one of the last pristine coral islands in the region. In 2011, Chumbe Island became the first Global Ecosphere Retreat (GER)certified Long Run Destination through the Jochen Zeitz Foundation which means that Chumbe strives for the highest standards in sustainability through the balance of conservation and commerce, whilst fostering community development and cultural stewardship. We interviewed the Chumbe Island team about their vision, and how they have made a huge impact on environmental preservation in that region.
How did your story begin? What prompted your commitment to sustainable living?
In the early 1990’s Sibylle Riedmiller, a former overseas development worker, identified the uninhabited Chumbe Island as most suitable for the establishment of a marine protected area (MPA), as the western fringing coral reef was incredibly diverse and also shallow enough to be used for environmental educational programs.
Traditionally, the sea surrounding the island was a military area where the army routinely conducted shooting range exercises from the adjacent coast. Fishing was also restricted as small fishing boats would have obstructed vessels plying the shipping channel to Dar es Salaam, and in addition, few boatmen could then afford outboard engines to reach this most distant of the islets surrounding Zanzibar town. As no local resource users were to be displaced, conditions appeared ideal for the creation of a MPA that depended on co-operation with local fishers rather than government enforcement.
From 1991 to 1994, Chumbe Island Coral Park Limited (CHICOP) successfully negotiated with the semi-autonomous government of Zanzibar that the western coral reef and all forest cover of Chumbe Island to be gazetted as a MPA. This MPA would be managed by CHICOP, a limited company established for that purpose, becoming the first managed marine park in Tanzania and what is considered to be the first private MPA in the world.
Ecotourism operations started in 1998 with the intention to develop a financially sustainable model of MPA management through revenue generated from ecotourism. Since then CHICOP has become the first financially self-sustaining MPA in Africa and beyond.
How energy-efficient is your lodging? How do you conserve energy or limit consumption?
Chumbe operates 100% on solar power. Lights and fans in the bungalows 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 louvers are in place that can be lowered or closed depending on the desired temperature.
In our kitchen we make use of solar freezers which operate on 12 volts and we have an inverter in the office on the island to operate a blender and a charging station for phones, laptops etc.
What water-saving strategies are in place? Does the hotel have low-flow showers or low-consumption toilets? Do you recycle grey water?
On Chumbe Island, lodge establishment and operations are closely controlled and monitored in order to minimize any environmental impacts.
All buildings on the island (7 eco-bungalows, visitor’s center and staff quarters) were constructed according to state-of-the-art eco-architecture including rainwater catchment, vegetative grey water filtration, composting toilets, solar water heating and photovoltaic power generation. The walkways, nature trails and beach areas are not artificially illuminated at night – a measure taken to protect feeding and breeding patters of nocturnal animals such as the giant Coconut crabs. For our guests individual solar powered torches are available on request.
As there is no ground water source in the rocky substrate of the island, each bungalow collects its own freshwater supply from rainwater during the rainy season. This rainwater passes through a complex filtration system and is stored in spacious underground cisterns. 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. Our showers operate through a press nozzle which prevents a wastage of the collected rainwater when showering.
Our compost toilets decompose human waste quickly and reduce it to a nutrient rich dry matter that is re-used in toilets and plant beds. The aerobic composting process is powered by a ventilation system of small wind-wheels fitted on top of long ventilation pipes and ensures our guests that it feels not different to using a regular toilet; except that composting toilets need no flush water at all, thus they effectively economize on water and prevent sewage from entering the reef where it would negatively affect the highly sensitive coral community.
How efficient is your disposal of waste? Do you recycle plastics? Do you compost?
Zanzibar does not have a regional solid waste management system in place and solid waste is usually burned in the streets or thrown in illegal dumps, creating a multitude of public health concerns and environmental hazards. Therefore, we encourage all our guests to avoid bringing plastic bags/bottles and disposable batteries to the island.
To help reduce the amount of solid waste produced, Chumbe also controls and restricts the numbers of visitors to the island and avoids the purchase of non-biodegradable products. Where possible, goods are transported in locally made, biodegradable baskets. Non-cooked fruit & vegetable waste is successfully composted on the island, while non-biodegradable waste is brought back to Zanzibar where Chumbe has been working together with a private waste operator that focuses on the collection, processing and selling of recyclable waste, both locally and internationally.
Do you hire locally? Are the environmental practices talked about and understood by staff?
The core of Chumbe`s project lies with the Chumbe Team running it. It ensures your needs and desires are given utmost attention during your stay with us!
Out of our 45 employees, 99% are Tanzanians with over two thirds from local communities. Wherever possible, we employ people from nearby communities, which helps local people to understand the tangible benefits of our eco-tourism and conservation endeavours, and fosters a positive relationship with our neighbours and their families. With only 7 rooms, CHICOP therefore, has probably the highest employee/room ratio of any tourism business in Tanzania, and three times the international average for eco-lodges.
The management style on the island is very different from a regular hotelier operation. All project decisions are made with opportunity for all concerned to express their opinions and wishes. Whilst the management team comprises of two expatriate staff, much of their work entails training of local employees who will ultimately manage the project independent of foreign expertise. Therefore, it has been important from the beginning to ensure that ideas from the team be given a chance to be developed. Decisions and systems established must be accepted by all and be culturally suitable.
A third of our staff is directly involved in conservation management and education, while the whole team is extremely proud of the successful protection of the Marine Park and the eco-tourism framework under which it operates. In particular, former fishers are recruited and trained as park rangers and stationed on the island.
On Chumbe Island we promote equal opportunities to all staff, whether they are cooks, waiters, house-keepers, maintenance staff or other, and actively encourage the employment of women as in the local Islamic culture, undereducated women from rural communities often find it difficult to find employment. Because of the pride all staff take in their work and benefits they experience, staff turnover at Chumbe is exceptionally low for the tourism industry in Tanzania.
In summary, our team has been empowered by the project through a unique approach to protected area management and is feeling a sense of ownership and responsibility for the environment which is of great significance for the long-term security of wildlife preservation in East Africa.
Find out more about this sustainable stay: http://www.chumbeisland.com/