Ecotourism and Climate Change Adaptation: Chumbe Island Case Study

Climate Change Adaptation in a Leading Ecotourism Destination: Chumbe Island Coral Park Case Study

Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd. (CHICOP) is an award-winning private nature reserve focused on the conservation and sustainable management of the island, where ecotourism supports conservation, research and environmental education and other benefits for local people. Chumbe Island also offers important lessons, especially for island and coastal destinations, on climate change adaptation.
Diana Körner
Diana Körner

Chair of the Board at Linking Tourism and Conservation


Expert Team at TrainingAid


Destination Example:
Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd. (CHICOP)

Unguja, Zanzibar

Key Lessons:

  • Invest in Your Team. Empower your team members with relevant knowledge, skills and experiences so that they can lead critical conservation and education-related activities, and be strong advocates for the resilience of their own communities.  
  • Invest in Partnership-Building. Chumbe Island’s example shows that managing this ecologically sensitive island reserve has only been possible through collaboration with various partners contributing their expertise supporting conservation, research, education and ecotourism objectives.
  • Invest in Consistent and Ongoing Monitoring. To understand the impacts of climate change and their consequences, and to effectively design adaptation solutions, communities and destinations need high quality and relevant data.
  • Harness the Power of the Crowd. Make it easy for stakeholders to support your ongoing monitoring and data collection efforts, so more people can become part of the solution.     
  • Prioritise Engagement and Education. Investing in community engagement and education is a key part of ensuring climate resilience. By highlighting the positive effects of conservation for local stakeholders, ecotourism can be a useful tool for promoting understanding and strengthening the desire to protect local ecosystems. 
Chumbe Coral Reef Sanctuary environmental education trip for local school children (Photo by Visual Narrative)

Ecotourism and Climate Change Adaptation 

As a small Indian Ocean coralline island (located off the coast of Unguja in the Zanzibar archipelago), Chumbe Island is affected by climate change through increased sea surface temperatures with directly related mass coral bleaching events that have partly impacted and threaten to further compromise ecosystem functions of the reef. Changing weather patterns to seasonal rainfalls are impacting rainwater catchment on the island, as well as ecotourism operations on the island (sudden strong winds, waves and rains affecting schedules).

Chumbe Island is managed by the not-for-profit enterprise Chumbe Island Coral Park (CHICOP). Chumbe is the first privately managed marine protected area in the world and its Coral Reef Sanctuary is a marine biodiversity hotspot of regional importance - as mentioned in the UN Secretary General’s report (2012) on protection of coral reefs for sustainable livelihoods and development, stating: “A noted example for PES (Payment for Ecosystem Services) within the context of coral reefs habitat is the private, non-profit Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd (CHICOP) in Tanzania”.

Source: Chumbe Island Coral Park Management Plan

CHICOP works through its dedicated Conservation and Education team and specialised local maintenance team to ensure its activities are in line with key objectives of the protected area: conservation, wildlife protection, research and education, and community engagement. In addition, CHICOP is in close contact with its Advisory Committee, which meets once a year and is composed of Chumbe staff, government officials, local University and community representatives.

CHICOP is currently operating in line with its third ten-year Management plan (2017-2027) with clear KPIs for its ecotourism, conservation and environmental education activities. The plan is publicly available, along with yearly Conservation and Education status reports.

Coral Reef Sanctuary

Over the years, Chumbe has suffered from two major mass coral bleaching events (1998 and 2016). The Chumbe coral reef monitoring programme has shown these occurred in correlation with higher sea surface temperatures which were recorded through in situ temperature loggers deployed in the Chumbe reef. These temperature increases are recognized by scientists around the world to be a result of climate change.

Coral bleaching is a challenge being faced by coral reef systems all around the world. Interestingly however, monitoring has shown that colour bleaching (i.e. non-fatal temporary loss of colour during bleaching episodes, followed by recovery) is far more commonly observed on Chumbe than mortal bleaching (resulting in death of the colony). This indicates the colonies present in the Coral Reef Sanctuary are relatively robust and resilient to climate change factors.

This resilience can be attributed to Chumbe’s 100% no-take and fully managed status, which helps remove other types of coral stressors such as fishing pressure, damage to reef from anchoring, destructive fishing practices, irresponsible tourism, and direct land-source pollution.

Coral Reef Monitoring (Photo by Chumbe Island Coral Park)

Mortal bleaching, however, has slightly increased in the last two decades, from only 0.3% in 2006/7 to 2.5% in 2021/22, suggesting that Chumbe’s coral resilience may be diminishing over time. This requires continued monitoring and ensuring all best practice approaches are followed with regards to post-bleaching management, along with continued implementation of protected area regulations.

Partnerships for Marine Ecosystem Protection

Managing this ecologically sensitive island reserve is only possible through collaboration with various partners with respective expertise supporting conservation, research, education and ecotourism objectives.

Communicating with local community members on Chumbe (Photo by Amalie Boge)

Since its early beginnings, Chumbe has had strict conservation protocols in place, which helps respond to climate change threats. Chumbe is part of national, regional and international science groups, such as the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, and has introduced a Bleaching Monitoring and Response Plan back in 2013 establishing protocols and monitoring procedures for the island conservation team. All data gathered is shared and evaluated.

For specific activities such as bleaching monitoring, regional and national-level engagement with the Zanzibar Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries and the Marine Science Institute helps ensure that the framework can also be replicated in other conservation areas within Zanzibar. 

Together with CORDIO (Coastal Oceans Research and Development – Indian Ocean) East Africa, Chumbe has also spearheaded the development of a regional coral bleaching reporting platform where bleaching observations can be submitted via a simple google-form. The form has become a very popular monitoring tool beyond the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region and submitted data are shared with the global bleaching database supported by the NOAA Coral Reef Watch programme.

Locally, Chumbe implements the Response Plan in the no-take zone by working with local rangers, and a communication strategy has been developed to proactively and consistently communicate information on environmental conditions and the level of bleaching severity to CHICOP senior management, key stakeholders of the Chumbe marine protected area, and the general public.

Water and Resource Consumption

It is part of Chumbe’s mission to advocate for more sustainable use of natural resources in Zanzibar and actively shares its lessons learnt locally, regionally and internationally.

Aerial view of Chumbe bungalows (Photo by Catarina Loborato)

Chumbe Island has no ground water source and no freshwater source on the island. Therefore, in order to provide water for the lodge in a sustainable manner, both the bungalows and the education centre have been designed with large roof surface areas to maximise rainwater catchment during the two rainy seasons experienced in Zanzibar (the large rains in April/ May, and the smaller rains in November). 

Rain falling onto these large roof areas is channelled into natural sand and gravel filters, after which the cleaned water is stored in cisterns located underneath each of the bungalows, and underneath the front portion of the education centre. Each of the bungalow cisterns can contain up to 15,000 litres of water, sufficient to provide water for the bathroom taps and shower units for the entire year.

Rainwater Shower for Chumbe Day Visitors (Photo by Catarina Loborato)

Additionally, composting toilets on the island further reduce water consumption. Typical guest water consumption on Chumbe is estimated at around 60L per guest per night, representing just a fraction of the average weighted water consumption of tourists in hotels and guesthouses in Zanzibar, which is 1482L/room/night (Slade et al., 2012).

However, rain catchment in the education centre has proven insufficient in recent years to provide the remaining water needs of the island. This is in part due to a reduced reliability of rainy season periods (time duration, annual timing and rainfall quantity) exacerbated by climate change impacts. Therefore alternative mechanisms for enhancing water provision on the island in the future will be needed, and options are currently being investigated.

Chumbe has become a showcase for renewable energy supply in the local area. Zanzibar as a destination suffers from water scarcity and unreliable electricity supply. Hence, in the construction process of the Chumbe ecolodge it became clear that the ecolodge needed to be off-grid to not only reduce its environmental footprint, but also to enable consistent electricity supply. 

Hence the bungalows have been carefully designed and feature photovoltaic panels on the roof that provide ample environmentally friendly 12V energy for normal usage, as well as solar heaters for warm water rain showers.

Photovoltaic panels and solar water heaters on the roof (Photo by Catarina Loborato)

Dealing with Change: The Future of Sustainable Tourism

Chumbe Island is a launch partner of the Glasgow Declaration, committing itself to a climate action plan. As part of local adaptation needs to the climate (and biodiversity) crisis, Chumbe has partnered with the Zanzibar Commission for Tourism to support sustainable tourism initiatives under the ‘Greener Zanzibar’ initiative and is a launching partner of the Zanzibar Declaration on Sustainable Tourism, endorsed by the President of Zanzibar.

Zanzibar Declaration on Sustainable Tourism was launched and officially endorsed on February 9th 2023 (Photo by Zanzibar Commission for Tourism) 

The Zanzibar Declaration is an informal statement of intent and a rallying cry for the Zanzibar tourism industry to take real strides towards sustainability, in support of people, planet and prosperity. It recognises the effects that tourism is having on the natural and cultural environment of Zanzibar and the collective responsibility that each segment of society has in the process of ensuring that tourism brings the desired cultural, economic, and environmental benefits. 

Specifically, the Declaration sets out five areas of commitment for its first year, which give signatories a direction of action for making their tourism operations more sustainable:

  • Sustainable food from land and sea
  • Sustainable waste management
  • Space for nature and restoring ecosystems
  • Support local Zanzibar culture, knowledge and expertise
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our operations

CHICOP strongly advocates for long-term, holistic approaches to sustainable tourism management. Conservation and building resilience need time. After nearly 30 years of protecting and enforcing the Chumbe MPA as a no-take zone, biodiversity is thriving, species, such as the black-tip reef shark, are reproducing and growing larger in size and importantly the understanding and buy-in from local communities has been established. 

This has only been possible, due to a close relationship with government and importantly Chumbe’s extensive environmental education program for local community members and school children, providing free educational trips, funded through ecotourism operations.

Investing in education is a key part of climate resilience (Photo by Visual Narrative)

With more than 300 local participants per year, this program enables local communities a whole different understanding and desire to protect and participate in Chumbe’s vision, when witnessing the positive effects of conservation with their own eyes. This educational approach also extends to the guests of Chumbe, as all activities are accompanied by guiding rangers and ensure that the precious island environment is understood and respected and tangible approaches for more sustainable travel and lifestyle choices are conveyed.