Congal Biological Research Station and Reserve

Congal Biological Research Station and Reserve
Maintain the conservation area that covers a succession of ecosystems such as beaches, mangroves, man-made wetlands and tropical humid rain forest in the coastline of Ecuador.

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Esmeraldas province, Muisne County

Area: 210 hectares    Altitude: 0 to 100 masl



The main objective of Congal is to maintain the only productive conservation area that covers a succession of ecosystems such as beaches, mangroves, man-made wetlands and tropical humid rainforest in the coastline of Ecuador. After being established in the year 2000, it serves as an example of natural resource management integrating sustainable acuaculture, agroforestry and range management with conservation and community extension programs. It also serves as a base for ecotourism programs in the region.



Congal Station covers 210 hectares (525 acres) of land surrounded partly by mangroves and divided into three different areas:

1. Lagartera, where the main housing facilities and organic acuaculture ponds are located.

2. Chontaduro hills, which include protected forest, regeneration and reforested areas as well as agroforestry models with cacao.

3. Congal Island located half an hour boat ride from housing facilities in the Muisne Estuary it includes organic acuaculture ponds, rainforest, coconut groves and fruit orchards on land surrounded by mangroves.



- Volunteer House: Wooden house with capacity for 13 people accommodated upstairs in shared 2-4 beds per room with mosquito nets.

- Hotel: Cement/wooden house with capacity for 18 tourists. Each room has 2 to 4 beds, fans and a private restroom with hot shower; no mosquito nets are needed.

We provide you with pillows, blankets and sheets and mosquito nets (only for volunteer house). All housing facilities have permanent electricity (110-120V), running water and a balcony with hammocks/chairs. At the office we have a library and basic scientific equipment. Meals are served as buffet with seafood, rice, beans and plantains as staples with fruits in season.



Volunteer Program at Congal Volunteers wishing to work at the Congal Biomarine Station will be able to participate in a wide range of activities. The program is quite flexible and volunteers can choose the activities they are most interested in. Personal projects can be tailored with Congal´s staff to suit personal or academic needs and ideas are always welcome. By participating in a wide range of activities, volunteers get a feeling of the local reality while learning about conservation and social issues; it is a true learning and personal growth experience. The interaction of volunteers/visitors with the locals also becomes a multicultural experience that broadens everyone’s horizons and empowers them to take action and propose their own solutions.

There are two local communities to work with:

- Bunche Village: This is a small community located about 20 minutes walking distance from the station. The community has approximately 500 inhabitants, their main means of existence is fishing, shellfish extraction, cacao production and small scale cattle raising. The community has only one elementary school and a day care center.

- Muisne Town: This is the largest town in the area located about 6 kms from the Station by car. The population is about 8,000 living some on mainland (Nuevo Muisne) while most live across the Estuary on the Muisne Island. There are 4 day care centers, several elementary and high schools and 1 public hospital. There are two internet places, phone services, hotels, restaurants and many stores with the basics. To participate in any of Congal’s activities in the town you need to pay your own transportation to the Muisne Island (USD $1.40 for the roundtrip from the Station).

1. Social service (with people in towns and villages):

Certified Organic Cacao Farmers Cooperative (FONMSOEAM): Located 45 minute bus ride from Station: Work at cooperative center helping to process cacao.

Health: Work in the public hospital of Muisne town.

Day care centers: Preschool kids need a variety of activities and entertainment for their proper development so ideas are permanently welcome.

Small enterprises: Ideas, adding value to products and searching potential markets are needed to generate income opportunities for people in towns. Support local handcraft makers, small enterprises, etc.

Construction/maintenance of infrastructure: In towns and villages at the schools and day care centers mainly. Work includes painting (murals welcome!), repairing/building fences, bamboo/wooden playgrounds and chairs and tables. Help is also needed to repair houses of people such as the elderly and underprivileged as well infrastructure in general.

“Urban” Gardening: Options include planting ornamental and edible plants in small parks, schools, day care centers and streets.

2. Economic sustainability and income generating options (at Station and with farmers):

Organic farming and agroforestry, cattle husbandry and range management: Basic concepts of tropical farming; working at the Station in a small organic garden and fruit orchards, maintenance of cacao plantations, weekly harvests of fruits IN SEASON or other resources such as tagua nuts, toquilla palm leaves or bamboo. Pasture weeding, repair, establishment or removal of live barbed wire fences, amongst other activities. NOTE: These activities are also carried out with some of the few people that still farm their land and need help.

Organic acuaculture (mainly shrimp farming): Shrimp farming concepts; shrimp harvests and processing at our own and/or neighboring ponds, monitoring of shrimp ponds and organic fertilization as needed; occasional shellfish trials and fish harvests.

3. Education:

English teaching at any of the 5 schools between April to end of December; English is part of the Ecuadorean school syllabus. Environmental, sexual, health and other education campaigns can also be given to school students throughout the schoolyear.

4. Environmental development and conservation:

Conservation: Basic land zoning concepts; weekly mangrove reforestation and occasional tropical humid forest restoration, inventories of reforestation areas (as a personal project), occasional plant nursery work; periodic sea turtle monitoring and beach patrolling during nesting season (October to end of December). Occasionally work with researchers or students on their projects.

Litter reduction program: Reduce, reuse & recycle. Periodic beach clean ups. Construction of wooden/bamboo trash containers and placement in towns and villages (parks, schools, etc). Ideas are needed for plastic reuse.

5. Building & repairing infrastructure:

Maintenance of the infrastructure at the Station as well as trail maintenance and other related activities.

Additionally you will visit Congal Island at least once on a speed boat (one morning) or, as an optional activity, going in canoes rowing along the mangroves (3 hours one way going slow with overnight stay and meals). On the Congal Island activities include fruit harvests, clam harvesting and hiking.



- Visit nearby beaches all within less than an hour ride: Atacames, Sua, Same, Tonchigue, Muisne, Mompiche
- Visit small fishing communities - Scuba diving - Surfing - Fishing (at Station, nearby beaches or with local fisherman at sea)
- Canoeing (in the Muisne Estuary)
- Horse back riding
- Making your own handcrafts
- Milking cows
- Hiking

Additionally, several guided social/environmental courses and tours are offered at Congal: Mangrove experiences, nature hikes, wildlife observation, cultural programs, sea turtle observation and whale watching (in season only)



1. Clothing & Footwear: Well fitting RUBBER boots (knee high, national Venus brand is best) are indispensable; shoes to walk and/or play sports, sandals. Fast drying light colored clothes are recommended; any old shirts and trousers /pants will be good to work in. Just make sure you bring some extra clothes, at least 2 pairs of trousers to work in and 1 pair for the evenings, shorts, many t-shirts (short and long sleeved) and many pairs of socks (short and long), a fleece or anything else that’s warm for some evenings, swim gear, beachwear, poncho or rain jacket.

2. Toiletries & Medication: BIODEGRADABLE soap & shampoo, tooth brush, tooth paste, etc. Malaria medication (prevention); first aid kit, sun screen (30+), insect repellent.

3. Other necessary items: Towels, soap for washing clothes, sunhat or cap, working gloves, torch/flash light, small backpack for hikes and work, water bottle. Bring money in small denominations as change is scarce; no $100 bills are accepted in the region.

Additional Information

Additional Information

Itinerary You choose your dates: after booking this package we will contact you and ask for your flight itinerary so we can plan your trip accordingly.
  • All accommodations
  • Airport transfers
  • Private transportation to and from station
  • Three meals a day
  • 300$ donation
  • If Spanish lessons option chosen: airfare, transport and dorm included
  • International airfare
  • Meals not mentioned in Itinerary
  • Beverages
  • Personal expenses
  • Gratuities