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.