Experience the Top Award-Winning Marine Conservation Destination
Chumbe Island is a designated nature reserve – protecting the natural and cultural heritage of Zanzibar. Chumbe Island is also a wilderness retreat that has regenerative tourism principles. Managed by a not-for-profit organization (CHICOP), each visitor to this wilderness retreat is directly supports the Island’s conservation and education programmes.
The reserve includes a Coral Reef Sanctuary and a Forest Reserve. Chumbe Island Coral Park was the first gazetted marine park in Tanzania.
Coral Reef Sanctuary
Through its protection, the reef has remained one of the region’s most beautiful, diverse, abundant and resilient reefs. It hosts at least 59 hard coral genera, over 500 reef fish species, and a range of micro and megafauna, including apex predators like black tip reef sharks, that breed in and around the sanctuary. Chumbe also safeguards extensive seagrass beds, providing critical foraging grounds for green sea turtles. The reef crest is shallow, and encompasses a spectacular array of hard corals, allowing snorkelers to see an underwater world that is usually only accessible to divers.
Located upstream of the most important fishing grounds opposite Zanzibar’s capital, Stonetown, the sanctuary also provides a protected breeding ground for fish, corals and other species, which spread out to recolonise nearby overfished and degraded areas. With the Chumbe reef exceeding the ‘pristine’ threshold of 1,100kg/ha of fish biomass, this makes the Chumbe Sanctuary of critical importance to the preservation of biodiversity beyond the protected area and for sustaining fisheries livelihoods and the local coastal economy in Zanzibar.
Chumbe’s Coral Reef Sanctuary is accredited to the highest international science-based standards for biodiversity protection and best practices for management. It is a classified Category II Park under the IUCN (World Conservation Union). It became a Global Ocean Refuge in 2018 and was awarded as a Blue Park by the Marine Conservation Institute in 2019.
Chumbe’s Forest Reserve hosts 178 species of plants, 82% of which are considered indigenous – making Chumbe Island an area of vital biodiversity value within the East African coastal forests, and a global biodiversity hotspot. The highly specialised plant community has developed to survive without any groundwater, as the island’s bedrock is made up of an impressive substrate of fossilised coral that cannot store rainwater. The density of this ‘coral rag’ forest is spectacular, as adventitious roots thrust out in all directions and epiphytic species cling to life by wrapping themselves around all available surfaces.
Not surprisingly, the forest is a refuge for an abundance of bird species (~80), crustaceans, non-poisonous snakes and lizards. Fauna also includes rare and endangered species such as the Ader’s duiker (a mini-antelope) and a large population of coconut crabs, the largest living arthropod in the world.
The tightly knit forest is difficult to traverse (access paths for visitors are provided in the south of the island). Researchers generally take up to two hours to cover a 1 km stretch through the central Forest Reserve, and the crags and caves hidden underfoot make studying this environment both challenging and consistently rewarding as discoveries are constantly uncovered.
For our guests, a forest walk is provided, allowing insights into this otherwise virtually impenetrable habitat.
Rare and endangered species protected on Chumbe include the following:
- Coconut crabs (Birgus latro) are the largest land-living crabs in the world. They can grow up to 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) in length (leg to leg) and weigh more than 4 kg (9.0 lb). Almost lobster-like in appearance, these slow-moving crabs have considerable pincer strength, can climb coconut trees and crack open coconut shells. Unfortunately, coconut crabs are hunted for their meat and as fish bait, resulting in them becoming locally extinct in areas close to human settlements, such as Zanzibar. They are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. As regional research into these crabs is limited, Chumbe Island is a crucial study base for international and domestic researchers.
- The Aders’ duiker (Cephalophus adersi) is Africa’s smallest and most distinctive
mini antelopes, readily distinguished by the wide white band across the rump. It is categorised as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. Chumbe translocated this population to the island in the early 2000s for their protection in the Forest Reserve. Like other duikers, the body shape is adapted for easy movement through dense undergrowth, being small and stocky, with large hindquarters, an arched back, relatively short legs, and pointed hooves. Both sexes have short pointed horns.
- Roseate terns (Sterna dougallii) are rare migratory coastal seabirds
in Zanzibar. They are similar in size to common terns (Sterna hirundo) but have long, white tail-streamers, a black cap and a black beak with a reddish base. In summer, adults have a pinkish tinge to their underbelly (which gives them their name).
- Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) are the second largest marine turtle species. Their name comes from the colour of their fat, not their shell as commonly believed. Their beak is sharp and finely serrated, perfectly adapted for grazing in seagrass beds and scraping algae off hard surfaces. They are listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List.
Research & Monitoring
Since its establishment, the Chumbe Nature Reserve has provided various research opportunities for national and international students and researchers. Long-term research activities and short-term studies have been carried out by a host of academic institutions involving a varied sector of the scientific community around the world.
Our annually updated Research Plan is available in the download section and provides step-by-step guidelines on how to conduct research on Chumbe Island. Interested researchers and students can also contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
A dedicated research board informs our visitors about ongoing studies. The most recent scientific publications and research reports are also available on our download page.