In the early 1990s, Tanzania was suffering high levels of marine degradation (destructive fishing, overexploitation, loss of habitat etc.). At the time the nation had no marine protected areas (MPAs) and awareness was just beginning to emerge of the importance of marine ecosystems such as coral reefs for sustainable fisheries and livelihoods.

To address this, a Social Entrepreneur — Sibylle Riedmiller, a former German aid worker — proposed utilizing impact investing to establish and sustainably manage an MPA on a small uninhabited island called Chumbe, which had been recognized for its high biodiversity value *. Her intent to protect the island’s biodiversity for present and future generations, and support environmental education across the region. The MPA would be managed by the people of Zanzibar, for the people of Zanzibar.

Following extensive community consultations, awareness-raising, outreach and negotiations with seven government ministries, the Chumbe Island Coral Reef Sanctuary and Forest Reserve were legally gazetted in 1994, making Chumbe the first MPA in Tanzania.

A not-for-profit company — ‘Chumbe Island Coral Park’ (CHICOP) — was established and a public-private partnership agreed between the Government of Zanzibar and CHICOP for the management of the MPA. CHICOP committed to entirely finance the MPA’s collaborative development, design and establishment, and finance the long-term conservation and education operations through revenue generated by CHICOP building a small ecolodge on the island. This made Chumbe the first privately managed MPA in the world, with all financing for MPA management provided by the company at no cost to the government.

Supported by British-borne conservationist — Eleanor Carter — participative partnerships were established with neighbouring communities, conservation management systems were established, environmental education programmes were developed, and local community members were actively engaged in the project’s design, development and establishment. The Ecolodge opened in 1998 providing revenue for all MPA management, making Chumbe the first financially self-sustaining MPA in the world.

Today, Sibylle and Eleanor remain as Directors of CHICOP. As a not-for-profit conservation and education project, CHICOP is support by an advisory committee comprising representatives from government, community leaders (Sheha) and academic institutions.