DESCRIPTION OF THE AREA
Congal Biomarine Station, located in Muisne County, northern Coastal Province of Esmeraldas, features natural corridors between beaches, estuaries, mangroves, man-induced wetlands and humid tropical forest habitats as well as organic production units. With only 210 hectares (525 acres) in size it has become the principal private nonprofit organization- run productive conservation area on the coastline of Ecuador.
The Station also neighbors several Afro-Ecuadorian, mestizo and Chachi indigenous communities that are located along the Muisne River Estuary. These communities have traditionally depended upon mangrove wetlands for the collection of basic subsistence needs including shellfish, crustaceans, fish, firewood, building materials and traditional medicines. But over the last two decades, the mangrove ecosystem has been heavily impacted by commercial aquaculture, urban sprawl and heavy extraction of its natural resources.
Up to 1998 only 50% of original mangrove habitat remained in Ecuador and the shrimp boom displaced ancient traditional industries of local communities. However, people adapted quickly to this easier income generating option and at least 90% of the local economies depended on the shrimp farming bonanza. The bust came also in 1998 and was caused by a non-native viral disease that affects crustaceans mainly. Shrimp farms collapsed causing massive unemployment and out migration from the Muisne area. People that stayed went back to the little mangrove habitat remaining to harvest food and other resources thus impacting further this vital ecosystem.
The majority of people in the Muisne town (pop. 8,000) have no farms, thus depending on the mangroves and the sea for subsistence: there are no formal employment opportunities since the shrimp farming collapse. On the contrary, most people that live in a few small villages do have farms and manage to get by since their land provides them with basic food. To some degree subsistence farming, cattle raising and cacao production keep a minority of the population on their land. Over the years small scale farming has become less profitable due to large distances to markets which reduce profit margin: most farmers wish to sell their land to improve their lives in the village or even leave the region.
Tourism is minimal due to the regions remoteness, lack of roads and infrastructure although the area is full of unexplored wilderness and traditional cultures thus having a big potential to become an ecotourism destiny.
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