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SOCOTRA - Biodiversity at it's best.

 

Socotra or Soqotra (Suquṭra) is a small archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean. The largest island, also called Socotra, is about 95% of the landmass of the archipelago. It lies off some 240 kilometres (150 mi) east of the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometres (240 mi) south of the Arabian Peninsula. The island is very isolated and through the process of speciation, a third of its plant life is found nowhere else on the planet. It has been described as the most alien-looking place on Earth.

Socotra is part of the Republic of Yemen. It has long been a part of the 'Adan Governorate, but in 2004 it became attached to the Hadhramaut Governorate, which is much closer to the island than 'Adan (although the closest governorate would be Al Mahrah).

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History

There was initially an Oldoway (or Oldowan) culture in Socotra. Oldoway stone tools were found in the area around Hadibo by V.A. Zhukov, a member of the Russian Complex Expedition in 2008.

Socotra appears as Dioskouridou ("of the Dioscurides") in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a 1st century A.D. Greek navigation aid. In the notes to his translation of the Periplus, G.W.B. Huntingford remarks that the name Socotra is not Greek in origin, but derives from the Sanskrit dvipa sukhadhara ("island of bliss"). A local tradition holds that the inhabitants were converted to Christianity by Thomas in AD 52. In the 10th century, the Arab geographer Abu Muhammad al-Hasan al-Hamdani stated that in his time most of the inhabitants were Christians Socotra is also mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo according to which "the inhabitants are baptised Christians and have an "archbishop"" who, it is further explained, "has nothing to do with the Pope in Rome, but is subject to an archbishop who lives at Baghdad". They were Nestorians but they also practiced ancient magic rituals despite the warnings of their archbishop.

In 1507, a fleet commanded by Tristão da Cunha with Afonso de Albuquerque landed an occupying force at the then capital of Suq, their objective was a Portuguese base to stop Arab commerce from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, and to liberate the presumed friendly Christians from Islamic rule. Here they started to build a fortress. However, they were not welcomed as enthusiastically as they had expected and abandoned the island four years later. The island was also come across by Somali sailors. The islands passed under the control of the Mahra sultans in 1511. Later, in January 1876 it became a British protectorate, along with the remainder of the Mahra State of Qishn and Socotra. For the British it was an important strategic stop-over.The P&O ship Aden sank after being wrecked on a reef near Socotra, in 1897, with the loss of 78 lives.

In October 1967, the Mahra sultanate was abolished. On 30 November 1967, Socotra became part of the People's Republic of South Yemen (later to become the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen). Today it is part of the Republic of Yemen.

Geography and climate

Halah Cave east of the island. Stalagmites and stalactites show how high it can reach compared to the 1.7m man with the torch. It is several hundred metres deep, with total darkness.

Socotra is one of the most isolated landforms on Earth of continental origin (i.e. not of volcanic origin).[citation needed] The archipelago was once part of the supercontinent of Gondwana and detached during the Miocene, in the same set of rifting events that opened the Gulf of Aden to its northwest. The archipelago consists of the main island of Socotra (3,625 km2 (1,400 sq mi)), the three smaller islands of Abd al Kuri, Samhah and Darsa and small rock outcrops like Ka'l Fir'awn and Sābūnīyah that are uninhabitable by humans but important for seabirds.

The main island has three geographical terrains: the narrow coastal plains, a limestone plateau permeated with karstic caves and the Haghier Mountains. The mountains rise to 5,000 feet (1,500 m). The island is a little over 80 miles (130 km) long east to west and typically 18–22 miles (29–35 km) north to south.

The climate for Socotra is classified in the Köppen climate classification as BWh and BSh, meaning a tropical desert climate and semi-desert climate with a mean annual temperature over 18°C (64°F). Yearly rainfall is light, but is fairly spread throughout the year. Generally the higher inland areas receive more rain than the coastal lowlands, due to orographic lift provided by the interior mountains. The monsoon season brings strong winds and high seas.

Flora and fauna

Socotra is considered the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea. The long geological isolation of the Socotra archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create a unique and spectacular endemic flora. Botanical field surveys led by the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) indicate that 307 out of the 825 (37%) plant species on Socotra are endemic i.e. they are found nowhere else on Earth. The entire flora of the Socotra Archipelago has been assessed for the IUCN Red List, with 3 Critically Endangered and 27 Endangered plant species currently recognised.

One of the most striking of Socotra's plants is the dragon's blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari), which is a strange-looking, umbrella-shaped tree. Its red sap was thought to be the dragon's blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and a dye,[citation needed] and today used as paint and varnish. Also important in ancient times were Socotra's various endemic aloes, used medicinally, and for cosmetics. Other endemic plants include the giant succulent tree Dorstenia gigas, Moraceae, the cucumber tree Dendrosicyos socotranus, and the rare Socotran pomegranate, Punica protopunica .

The island group also has a rich bird fauna, including several endemic species of birds, such as the Socotra Starling Onychognathus frater, the Socotra Sunbird Nectarinia balfouri, Socotra Sparrow Passer insularis and Socotra Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus socotranus, many endangered by non-native feral cats. There is even an endemic monotypic genus of birds, the Socotra Warbler Incana incana.

As with many isolated island systems, bats are the only mammals native to Socotra. In contrast, the coral reefs of Socotra are diverse, with many endemic species. There is concern that introduced species, such as goats, may present a threat to the native flora of Socotra in the future.

UNESCO recognition

The island was recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world natural heritage site in July 2008. The European Union has supported such a move, calling on both UNESCO and International Organisation of Protecting Environment to classify the island archipelago among the environmental heritages. Sabanet, 2008-04-15.

People and economy

The inhabitants are of Arab, Somali, and South Asian origins. They follow the Islamic faith and speak Soqotri, a Semitic language. Their primary occupations have been fishing, animal husbandry, and the cultivation of dates. Almost all inhabitants of Socotra, numbering nearly 50,000, live on the homonymous main island of the archipelago. The principal city, Hadiboh (with a population 8,545 at the census of 2004), the second largest town, Qulansiyah (3,862), and Qād̨ub (929)[citation needed] are all located on the north coast of the island of Socotra. Only a few hundred people live on the islands of 'Abd-al-Kūrī and Samha; the island of Darsa and the islets of the archipelago are uninhabited.

The archipelago forms two districts of the Hadhramaut Governorate:

• the district of Hadībū, with a population of 32,285 and a district seat at H̨adībū, consists of the eastern two thirds of the main island of Socotra; • the district of Qulansiyah wa 'Abd-al-Kūrī with a population of 10,557 and a district seat at Qulansiyah, consists of the minor islands (the island of 'Abd-al-Kūrī chief among them) and the western third of the main island.

Monsoons long made the archipelago inaccessible from June to September each year. However, in July, 1999, a new airport opened Socotra to the outside world year round, with both Yemen Airways and Felix Airways providing flights once a week to Aden and everyday to Sana'a. All flights stop at Riyan-Mukalla Airport (ICAO code "RIY"). Socotra Island Airport ("OYSQ") is located about 12 km west of the main city, H̨adībū, and close to the third largest town in the archipelago, Qād̨ub. Diesel generators make electricity widely available in Socotra, but even in Hadiboh there is no electricity from 5:00 A.M. until 9:00 A.M. daily. An excellent paved road runs along the north shore from Quelensiyah to Hadiboh and then to DiHamri area; and another paved road, from the northern coast to the southern through the Dixsam Plateau. Public transport is limited in Socotra; taxis are available only as a kind of rent-a-car service of four-wheel-drive vehicles with drivers.

The former capital is located to the east of Hadiboh. A small Yemeni Army barracks lies at the western end of Hadiboh, and the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has a residence there.

The Semitic language Soqotri, spoken originally only in Socotra, is related to such other Modern South Arabian languages on the Arabian mainland as Mehri, Harsusi, Bathari, Shehri, and Hobyot. Soqotri is also spoken by minority populations in the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states.

Some residents raise cattle and goats. The chief export products of the island are dates, ghee, tobacco, and fish. At the end of the 1990s, a United Nations Development Program was launched with the aim of providing a close survey of the island of Socotra.

The majority of male residents on Socotra are reported on Wikipedia to be in the J* subclade of Y-DNA haplogroup J. Several of the female lineages on the island, notably those in mtDNA haplogroup N, are found nowhere else on earth.

Transport

Public transport on Socotra is limited to infrequent minibuses to Qalansiya and to the villages on northeastern coast, car hire usually means hiring a 4WD car with driver.

Ships connect the only Socotra port - 5 km east of Hadibu with Yemeni coastal city of Mukalla (Al-Mukalla). According to information from the ports of Mukalla and Hadibu the journey takes 2–3 days and the service is used mostly for cargo.

Yemenia and Felix Airways fly from Socotra Airport to Sana'a and Aden via Mukalla (RIY - Riyan Airport). The Sana'a service is everyday, while Aden flights are available on Mondays (as of December 2009).