The Nature Conservancy - Parks in Peril
home how we work where we work more resources about us
Caribbean   Mexico   Central America   South America  


Condor Biosphere Reserve

Machalilla National Park

Podocarpus National Park

how you can help


Machalilla National Park

Machalilla National Park, located on the western coast of Ecuador, is one of only three protected areas in continental Ecuador that include a marine area. Established in 1979, the park includes more than 113,000 acres (46,000 ha) of fog forest, dry forest, and coastal scrub, in addition to a long stretch of beach, two offshore islands and rocky islets, and a large area of surrounding ocean. In 1990, the park was declared a Ramsar site which designates the park as an internationally important wetland according to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

did you know?

Several archeological sites have been uncovered at Machalilla. Relics dating back 5,000 years have been found at the ancient settlements of Rio Buenavista and Agua Blanca.

Los Frailes Beach

Los Frailes Beach © Marcus Koenen

site profile

total area protected:
135,900 acres
map of site

Ecuadorian Dry Forest

partner organization:
Fundación Natura

Ecological Importance

Machalilla is known for its high levels of floral endemism; an estimated 19 percent of the woody plants in the park are endemic, including the ivory palm. A majority of the large mammals have been hunted and are now endangered locally and regionally, including white-tailed deer and brocket deer. While threatened, ocelots are still observed occasionally.

The park is comprised of 316,160 acres (128,000 ha) of marine and coastal habitat along the mainland and around the Islands of Salango and La Plata; the surrounding ocean encompasses Ecuador's only continental coral reefs. The park’s marine boundaries protect 40 percent of coastal fisheries in the country. La Plata Island is a major feeding ground for several shore birds, including pelicans, frigate birds, and boobies and protects the only known population of waved albatross outside of the Galapagos Islands. Humpback whales also breed within park boundaries.


Machalilla is threatened by several factors, both on land and at sea. Terrestrially, the most severe threats are deforestation for commercial charcoal production and timber, an increase in grazing animals, erosion, tourist development, and loss of wildlife due to poaching and habitat conversion. Within the park, some 3,000 acres (1,200 ha) have been converted to agriculture (mostly for coffee, corn, plantains, and citrus), and about 20,000 acres (8,000 ha) are subject to grazing. Other regional development initiatives represent an imminent threat, including indiscriminate use of the park as a service corridor for power and oil lines. Currently, tourism is concentrated at the archaeological sites near the community of Agua Blanca and along the Los Frailes beaches near the town of Machalilla.

In the park’s marine environment, the major threats are loss of benthic animals to commercial fishing, and destruction of one of the few protected nesting areas for sea turtles in continental Ecuador. In addition, important nesting sites for birds are threatened by tourist developments in Isla de la Plata and Los Frailes Beach.

A Strategy of Success

Machalilla was declared a national park in 1979, but it was not until PiP began funding in 1991 that the park received the conservation attention it deserved. At the time of PiP intervention, Machalilla's administration had inadequate tools to protect the area, relationships with local communities were poor, and park guards were insufficiently trained. PiP’s initial strategy focused on the development of infrastructure, purchasing equipment and strengthening administrative staff. With PiP funding, Machalilla was also able to build an interpretative center for visitor education.

PiP’s community conservation component provided a critical boost to the park’s overall status. The park’s relationship with local communities is now much improved due to the implemention of integrated conservation and development projects by Machalilla's partner organization, Fundación Natura (FN). PiP was able to hire people from local communities as park guards, which provided a means for local people to learn about and directly participate in the management of the park. This opened communication between park authorities and local people who depend on the park’s natural resources to survive. FN also worked with the Casa Viejas community to improve agricultural techniques and promote environmental education in schools. In coastal communities, FN has trained local fishermen in sustainable practices and the protection of dolphins and sea turtles.

The sited was consolidated in 1997. Long-term management of Machalilla has been strengthened by PiP by providing Fundación Natura, local communities, and the Ecuadorian government with a base for future conservation.

Read more about Machalilla...

Fundación Natura (FN)
The Nature Conservancy in Machalilla

Read more about projects in Ecuador...

Podocarpus National Park
Condor Biosphere Reserve

Ecuador Partner Organizations

The Nature Conservancy in Ecuador