In the last twenty years about 20,000 hectares of mangroves surrounding the town have been cut down to create shrimp farms – ugly pools resembling sewage treatment facilities – which have dealt a severe blow to the birds, marine life and people who relied on the trees for food and sustenance. A handful of entrepreneurs have become millionaires, but most people have lost their way of life and many now work in the shrimp farms to survive or have migrated to city slums elsewhere. Government measures to stop the destruction – three to thirty days in jail for felling a mangrove – have largely remained unenforced and ineffective, meaning only about 3000 hectares of constantly threatened mangrove forests survive.

The organization Fundecol (t06/2248201 or in Quito t02/2522714) attempts to protect the trees through security patrols, political activism, education and by running tours of the area ($30); local hotels offer similar trips. The Fundación Jatun Sacha manages the Congal Biological Station in five square kilometres of primary mangrove forest 2km from Muisne, developing ecologically sound aquaculture and running reforestation programmes; for volunteering work at Congal, contact Jatun Sacha in Quito (t02/2432240,

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