Bilsa Biological Station

The station offers a volunteer program for those interested in protecting the remaining parts of the tropical rainforest of Ecuador

A General Vision

The Bilsa Biological Station protects one of the last remnants of tropical rainforest along the northwestern coast of Ecuador. Situated in the Latitude 0º20,816’ N, Longitude 79º42,659’ W; within the Choco bioregion, it is the third most important hotspot in the world, Bilsa is rich in biodiversity and has the highest level of endemism of flora & fauna species of all the reserves, with many new species yet to be discovered.

Starting with only 760 hectares, now the reserve has more than 3,000-hectares. The Bilsa Biological Station is a nature preserve and a center for field research and environmental education in northwestern coastal Ecuador. Founded in 1994 by the Jatun Sacha Foundation in memory of conservation biologists Al Gentry and Ted Parker, Bilsa Biological conserves a critical remnant of Ecuador’s coastal premontane wet forest, of which less than one percent remains.

Bilsa is part of a larger conservation area, the Mache Chindul Ecological Reserve REMACH (120.000 hectares), which is part of the National System of Protected Areas of Ecuador (SNAP). Logging companies, oil pipelines and extensive colonization of the whole area have caused great destruction of the forest in the past 50 years and the remaining 2-3% of the original tropical forest is highly fragmented. With such significant habitat loss, several species of flora & fauna have become extinct and many more are in danger of extinction. Bilsa’s unique habitats allow many of these endangered species to remain abundant within our reserve. The Bilsa Biological Station rainforest also protects three major coastal river watersheds: (Aguacatal, Dógola, and Cube Rivers). These are important freshwater sources for the people of the Esmeraldas and Manabi Provinces.

Rising steeply from sea level to an elevation of near 800 meters, the Mache-Chindul Mountains capture moisture from sea winds, making the forests extremely wet. With a temperature from 18 C to 22 C and with the additional moisture received from abundant fog drip, the area receives more than 3000 mm of precipitation a year. Altitude-related variations in moisture levels in the Mache-Chindul Mountains and specifically in Bilsa create microhabitats that encourage speciation and local endemism. Considering that the foothills reach over 700 meters in height, isolated and endemic populations of species is highly likely (Parker and Carr 1992).

Bilsa belongs to the Chocó Darien- Tumbesino region, one of the 25 hot spots in the world for high biodiversity and high endemism of flora and fauna. In addition it is part of the world Conservation Sanctuaries and also belongs to the World Important Bird Areas (IBAS). Bilsa protects the headwaters of several rivers: From de province of Manabí the Coaque, Cojimies and Cheve rivers. From de Province of Esmeraldas the Muisne, Atacames and Tiaone rivers. Besides the Dógola, Aguacatal and Cube basins. The Cube Lagoon near the Bilsa Reserve is one of the Ramsar sites

To reach the Bilsa Reserve, take the Esmeraldas Quinindé road, at Km 80 enter the third-order road to Ye de la Laguna town. From there, take the left road to Yecita. From Yecita take the right road to Dógola. Bilsa is located at 500 meters from La Yecita.

Tropical moist forest and Pre-Montane Wet Forest

  • More than 350 species of birds
  • More than 100 species of amphibians & reptiles
  • More than 25 species of mammals
  • 1,434 plant species identified (624 genera and 149 families)

In Bilsa extensive inventories and studies of plants and animals have been conducted but the population dynamics of most species is unknown. More studies are needed to determine the importance of these species in pollination, seed dispersal and its role in the dynamics and maintenance of these forests.

The green world (plants) is perhaps the best studied group regarding inventories of biota, but the ecology and population dynamics of most species is unknown.

Bilsa is in a very hilly area with deep ravines and for the region typical clay soil. In the beginning of the winter time the dry soil normally swells due to the rain and expels the tree roots causing the trees to fall.

This phenomenon causes a particular dynamics in these forests with the formation of clear and permanent succession processes that have not been studied.

The world of invertebrates is perhaps the least known of all groups of animals in these forests. There are no comprehensive studies of any group, nor the most obvious such as butterflies and beetles. This is still a hidden world where we can ensure that any study done will discover more than one new species to science.

Bilsa has infrastructure for researchers, volunteers and interns for short and long periods. It has enough space for courses and workshops groups. There are rooms, cabins, dining room, showers and latrines. In addition we have running water and recently electricity.

We also provide fruit trees, orchids and gardens (including gesneriario), a network of trails in the forest and a self-guided trail.
Around the facilities are gardens where species rescued from the forest are placed. A sample of fruits and exotic important species have been planted around.
The Bilsa orchid – gesneriario garden has a well-structured trail and many species with scientific identification tags.

We have had the presence of many researchers including:

  • John Clark: floristic inventories within the Biological Station Bilsa
  • Karl Berg: inventory of birds
  • David Neill founding partner of Jatun Sacha has established permanent plots in Bilsa and has made botanical collections for plant biodiversity of the Reserve. Along with John Clark he has published a study on the vegetation of the area
  • Jordan Karubian: Studies on the umbrella bird and Chapiles
  • Greg Vigle: made the first inventory of the herpetofauna
  • Nils Koster: conducted research on epiphytes

Bilsa School

  • English classes for children of the community.

Bilsa Biological Station

  • Reforestation of fruit trees to self-supply the station.
  • Conservation of areas and restocking of endemic trees, fallen or damaged.
  • Organization of organic gardens with medicinal plants.
  • Building signage for trails.