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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Marine zonation and community participation / Chumbe Island-Tanzania

Posted By: Sibylle Riedmiller
Date: Friday, 1 June 2001, at 1:47 p.m.

In Response To: Marine Zonation (Melissa Macasaet)


Following on earlier contributions relating to conservation at Chumbe Island, Tanzania (http://csiwisepractices.org/?read=185 and resulting discussion thread) and in response to a query by Melissa Macasaet concerning marine zonation and community participation (http://csiwisepractices.org/?read=235), the following contribution describes the process involved.

Chumbe Island was selected as a site for a privately managed marine park on the basis of three criteria:

1. The coral reef should have a high conservation value, i.e. high biodiversity and good condition;

2. No fishing community should depend on it for survival or for their main economic activities;

3. The reef should be shallow enough for educational snorkelling and accessible for both local schoolchildren and ecotourists.

Chumbe Island fulfilled these criteria and was selected.


The coral reef west of the island is of amazing diversity, quality and beauty. Marine scientists invited to help with the assessment backed this choice, among them, in 1991, David Wachenfeld, now with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and in 1997, Charlie Veron from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences. The western reef of Chumbe Island borders the shipping channel between Zanzibar and the capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam. As the traditional dugouts and outrigger boats would have obstructed the way of large vessels, it has for decades been off-limits for local fishers. In addition, the military base on the adjacent coast used the area around Chumbe for shooting range exercises.

While the official approval of the project took a considerable length of time, the actual zonation and community participation process turned out to be comparatively straightforward. For zonation of the protected area, the best-preserved reef section west of the island that had been off-limits for decades, was quickly agreed upon as the most realistic option. Thus the gazetted area now comprises a stretch of totally closed reef, 1 km long and 300 m wide, starting from the high-water mark on the western shore of Chumbe Island. This area is also small enough to be observed from the beach and patrolled by the park rangers. In addition, the whole of the Chumbe forest was also closed and gazetted (not elaborated in this contribution).

Chumbe Island is surrounded by coral reefs, and the reef sections north, east and south were fished traditionally. The idea of a buffer zone for multiple-use around the island was considered and then postponed, as it would have resulted in unnecessary conflicts with local fishers and put an avoidable burden on the local management. Therefore, up to the present time, there are no restrictions for fishing in the island waters right up to the borders of the closed area.


From the project beginning, the Chumbe management team relied on 'educating' and 'convincing' local fishers about the benefits of a small totally protected area, and hoped that the natural restocking of the adjacent reef areas would in few years help in this process. Therefore, during 1991, and with the support of representatives of the Departments of Environment and Fisheries, a round of meetings were held in several fishing villages along the adjacent coast, to present the project to villagers and win their support. Few people felt threatened by the closure of the reef, since it was off-limits anyway. However, villagers made it clear that they expected to be given preference in employment opportunities over urban people. Assured of this by the project team, they were asked to propose candidates among the fishermen to be employed and trained as park rangers. The conditions were that candidates should be literate, good swimmers and experienced fishermen, sympathetic to the project objectives and interested in acquiring new skills.

From late 1992, as soon as the project had been approved in principle by the government and before the conservation area had been gazetted, five local fishermen were employed by Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd. They are stationed on the island, and over several years have received on-the-job training from volunteer marine scientists. This rather informal, but very successful training, focused on the basics of coral reef ecology, the benefits of a totally closed area, the aims of the Chumbe project, and how to communicate this to their fellow fishermen and villagers. The rangers were also trained to produce daily monitoring reports and to help researchers with baseline surveys. English language training and visitor guidance skills were added to this at a later stage.

This combination of 'local fishermen trained by volunteers on-the job' turned out to be very successful. In spite of the rather violent nature of some of the fishing methods used in the area, the Chumbe park rangers bear no arms and have no powers of enforcement. Traditional 'subsistence' fishers responded well to this approach, especially when they started seeing increased catches in the adjacent reefs. The fact that the rangers work in two- to three-weekly shifts on the island and continue to reside in the village and even fish during their time-off, probably also helped for close bonds with villagers. In the absence of any marine rescue services in the country, local fishers also welcomed the presence of fully equipped rangers on the formerly uninhabited island, and received efficient help in many cases of emergency, storms, engine failure, loss of boats, lack of drinking water etc. Evidence indicates that several lives were probably saved by the park rangers.

Challenges came mostly from one urban fishing group that had direct access to the more affluent urban seafood market (boosted by the growing tourism industry) and could afford the outboard engines to go to more distant reefs. In the mid 1990's, they started 'invading' traditional fishing grounds of rural villages, sometimes using very destructive fishing methods. They threatened to 'take over' the Chumbe reef and adjacent areas, and had no family or clan loyalty with the Chumbe park rangers and little respect for their 'soft' methods of persuasion. When the conflict also started to become politicised in the election period in 1994/5, the project management sought intermediation from the government and informal leaders.

With the decisive help of the Institute of Marine Sciences, an Advisory Committee was established with representatives of the Departments of Fisheries, Forestry and Environment, the Institute of Marine Sciences and local fishing communities. A Management Plan 1995-2005 was developed for Chumbe Island, with consultation of a wide variety of stakeholders. These measures helped to settle the widely publicised conflicts.

Public support was also created by the fact that from the early 1990's, schoolchildren are taken for regular day excursions to the island. Guided by the park rangers, they walk along nature trails and learn how to swim and snorkel over the reef. Government officials from several departments, including the Board of Trustees of the mainland Tanzania Marine Parks and Reserves Unit are also routinely invited to Chumbe to better understand the conservation orientation of the project.

This is helpful, as nature conservation is not yet widely perceived as providing benefits and services to the public. While the booming tourism industry in the country is becoming a 'cash cow,' also for the government, some sectors tend to see Chumbe Island as a low-performing tourism project. The enthusiastic feedback from local and international visitors, as well as the several prestigious international awards won by the Chumbe project over the last couple of years has been of tremendous help for continued political and public support.

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

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