Become an Indian Ocean Crusoe

Eco-castaways save coral island

It sounded intriguing and it was. An island sandwiched between Zanzibar and Tanzania where you could live Robinson Crusoe-style in eco-bungalows and spend your days exploring the exotic wildlife of the surrounding sea.

It sounded intriguing and it was. An island sandwiched between Zanzibar and Tanzania where you could live Robinson Crusoe-style in eco-bungalows and spend your days exploring the exotic wildlife of the surrounding sea.

Chumbe became a lighthouse station when the British and the Sultan of Zanzibar built a lighthouse there in 1904. After the last lighthouse keeper left, in the Sixties, the island lay uninhabited until 1992, when an ex-pat German, Sibylle Riedmiller, took action.

The surrounding coral reef had been damaged from overfishing so, dismayed by the destruction, she persuaded the Tanzanian government to recognise it as a Marine Nature Reserve, the country's first. To fund the reserve, Riedmiller turned to tourism and established CHICOP (Chumbe Island Coral Park Limited) to manage the island as an eco-destination. The profits are ploughed into protecting the reef through research and education.

The company's seven years of preservation have been a great success with over 380 species of fish now present in Chumbe's coral. And last year the project won first place in the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.

As you follow one of the rangers (all former fishermen) on a guided nature walk, you begin to realise just how unique it is. And that's before you even slip a toe in the water. The island is 90 per cent rag coral forest and amidst the tangle of baobab trees and mangroves you may catch a glimpse of the shy and increasingly rare Ader Duikers antelope or a scurrying coconut crab.

Since 1998 it has been possible to stay overnight on the island in surprisingly luxurious eco-bungalows. The two-storey buildings are constructed from palm thatch and mangrove trees.

And when you're ready to explore the reef, one of the rangers will accompany you a quarter of a mile offshore to the 16m drop-off to see the spectacular coral and the puffer fish, trumpet-fish, lion fish, string rays and barracuda that buzz beautifully around it.

Chumbe Island Coral Park is at PO Box 3203, Zanzibar, Tanzania (tel/fax: 00 255 54 231 040, email: info@chumbeisland.com). Ecology doesn't necessarily come cheap. To stay at Chumbe costs around £140 per person per day in high season (November to March and June to September) and £100 a day in low season. The price includes boat transfers, full board and all activities

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