The Muisne River Estuary Mangrove Wildlife Refuge

The Muisne River Estuary Mangrove Wildlife Refuge

The Muisne River estuary is famous for two things: its production of shellfish, extracted from the mangroves that surround the area, and the African-Ecuadorian communities that continue to fight to protect this special environment that for centuries has provided them with their livelihood.

The Muise River Estuary Mangrove Wildlife Refuge is located in the south of Esmeraldas Province. Here the visitor will see one of the most important areas of mangroves in the country; there are six species, each with different capacities of adaptation to the various types of soils found in the border areas between the land and the Pacific Ocean.

The Reserve provides a perfect illustration of the interdependence between sea and land creatures such as fish, crustaceans, mollusks and, above all, birds. The 95 species of salt and freshwater fish identified in the Reserve, as well as the many varieties of prawns, shrimp, crabs and mussels, serve to attract birds such as pelicans, frigatebirds, green kingfishers and ospreys. Swallow-tailed kites, woodpeckers and vibrant blue-headed parrots can also be spotted in this region. The Reserve is also home to an exotic variety of mammals. The 25 species that live here include sloths, armadillos, river otters, anteaters and howler monkeys.

The mangroves that cover this region filter and desalinate the water and the land they grow in, reducing the risk of flooding and damage caused by high waves. They also capture carbon, a highly valuable characteristic in the fight against global warming. The unique world that is created amongst the protruding roots of the mangroves has learned to adapt to this particular environment, creating an original ecosystem of 253 species of fauna which thrive in these salt and freshwater swamps.

About 30% of the families around Muisne depend on the mangroves. Their main income is from fishing and collecting mollusks and crustaceans. The collection of shellfish is traditionally carried out by women, although with growing economic hardship and the increase in poverty, more men are participating in this activity.

The shellfish collectors, known as “concheras”, have an admirable knowledge of the ecosystem of the mangroves. As well as being able to find the shellfish amid the roots of the mangroves, they are careful not to collect the females, thus increasing the sustainability of this resource.

The arrival of the shrimp industry had a devastating effect on the communites and their ability to make a living: eighty five percent of the mangroves were lost. In order to protect the mangrove and their traditional life style, the concheras and their families organized themselves in the Foundation for Defense of the Environment (FUNDECOL), which now administers the Reserve. Since 2003, FUNDECOL has been operating a project to raise shellfish in abandoned shrimp pools. One of the biggest achievements of the initiative is that it encourages the participation of both men and women, as well as preventing the irrational exploitation of the mangroves.


The beaches of Muisne and Mompiche

Bird watching, particularly frigatebirds and pelicans.

Early-morning treks into the forests to hear the howler monkeys calling – their roars travel up to 5km.

The unique marimba music and dance. Esmeraldas’ Afro-Ecuadorian inhabitants have a rich and unique culture, blending African and South American beliefs, cuisine and music.

The El Congal Biomarine Station is located within 2 km of Muisne. The station is managed by the Jatun Sacha Foundation, in association with other private proprietors (the Quiroga family), The station has 250ha and protects some 650ha of mangroves and native forest. There are facilities visitors, scientists and students. All projects and Station areas are open to national and international visitors.


The Reserve is hot and humid year-round, with average temperatures of 25°C. Annual precipitation is from 500–3,000 mm.

What to bring:

Insect repellent (minimum 30% DEET).
Sun screen.
Light, protective clothing (long sleeved shirt and long trousers).
Rain poncho or light, waterproof jacket during the rainy season.
Rubber boots.
Plenty of drinking water.
Anti-malaria tablets may be necessary – seek medical advice before visiting Esmeraldas.

How to get here:

From the city of Esmeraldas, the capital of the Province, it is possible to take a local bus directly to the town and island of Muisne. By private vehicle follow the Atacames–Chamanga road, and take the road to Muisne at the fork a few kilometers before the village of Bilsa. At the end of the road, launches cross the river to the island of Muisne where the tourist will find tricycles to take them to the beach.

It is not possible to take cars or other private vehicles onto the island

The area by numbers

• 3,000: The number of families in the region who depend on the natural resources of the mangroves.
• 95: The number of fish species inhabiting the waters around the mangroves.
• 85: The percentage of mangroves lost around Muisne in the 1980s, as a direct result of the growth of the shrimp industry.
• 25: The number of mammal species identified in the Reserve.
• 25: The average annual temperature of the Reserve in °C.

Recent Posts

Post Office Bay, Floreana Island

  The wooden barrel at Post Office Bay is very likely the Galapagos Islands’ most famous man-made site. It has been in use since the

Otavalo Cultural Trails

The lakes district in the Northern Andes is a beautiful area to explore, not only for its scenery and interconnected valleys, but also for the

Mystic Weaver: Weaving Inca Links

“Four generations or perhaps even more” says Miguel Andrango, master weaver, when I ask him how long his family has been in the trade. He

Floreana Island – Galapagos

The Galapagos’ Floreana Island has a history cloaked in mystery. There are unsolved murders, love triangles and old pirate caves to explore, as well as