Socotra Archipelago World Heritage Site
Archipel de Socotra, Yemen
MARINE PROTECTED AREA
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Socotra (Arabic: سُقُطْرَى Suquṭra), also spelled Soqotra, 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 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. The island measures 132 kilometres (82 mi) in length and 49.7 kilometres (30.9 mi) in width.
Socotra is part of the Republic of Yemen. It had long been a part of the 'Adan Governorate. In 2004, it became attached to the Hadhramaut Governorate, which is much closer to the island than 'Adan (although the nearest governorate is Al Mahrah).
In the notes to his translation of the Periplus, G.W.B. Huntingford remarks that the name Suqotra is not Greek in origin, but from the Sanskrit dvīpa (Skt. "island") sukhadhara ("supporting, or providing bliss"). Another probable origin of the name is the Arabic "Suq" meaning "market" and "qotra" meaning "dripping frankincense".
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 Dioscurides") in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a 1st-century AD Greek navigation aid. A recent discovery of texts in several languages, including a wooden tablet in Palmyrene dated to the 3rd century AD, indicate the diverse origins of those who used Socotra as a trading base in antiquity.
In 2001 a group of Belgian speleologists of the Socotra Karst Project made a spectacular discovery. Deep inside a huge cave on the island Socotra they came across a large number of inscriptions, drawings and archaeological objects. As further investigation showed, they were left by sailors who visited the island between the 1st century BC and the 6th century AD. The majority of the texts is written in the Indian Brāhmī script, but there are also inscriptions in South-Arabian, Ethiopian, Greek, Palmyrene and Bactrian scripts and languages. This corpus of nearly 250 texts and drawings thus constitutes one of the main sources for the investigation of Indian Ocean trade networks in the first centuries of our era.
A local tradition holds that the inhabitants were converted to Christianity by Thomas the Apostle 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; Marco Polo did not pass anywhere near the island but recorded a report that "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 also practised 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, as it was not advantageous as a base.
The islands passed under the control of the Mahra sultans in 1511. In 1834, the United Kingdom stationed a garrison on the island. Plans were made to make it a coaling station for ships bound for India, but the climate was considered unsuitable and the British left in 1839. In January 1876, it became a British protectorate along with the remainder of the Mahra State of Qishn and Socotra. 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 South Yemen. Since Yemeni unification in 1990 it has been part of the Republic of Yemen.
Somali pirates have begun using Socotra as a refueling stop for hijacked maritime vessels.
Socotra is one of the most isolated landforms on Earth of continental origin (i.e. not of volcanic origin). 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 (3,665 km2 (1,415 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 1,503 metres (4,931 ft). The island is about 125 kilometres (78 mi) long and 45 kilometres (28 mi) north to south.
The climate of 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 25 °C (78 °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. For many centuries, the sailors of Gujarat called the maritime route near Socotra as "Sikotro Sinh", meaning the lion of Socotra, that constantly roars—referring to the high seas near Socotra.
Socotra is considered the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea. In the 1990s, a team of United Nations biologists conducted a survey of the archipelago’s flora and fauna. They counted nearly 700 endemic species, found nowhere else on earth; only Hawaii, New Caledonia, and the Galapagos Islands have more impressive numbers.
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 recognised in 2004.
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 dye, 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, the cucumber tree Dendrosicyos socotranus, the rare Socotran pomegranate (Punica protopunica), Aloe perryi, and Boswellia socotrana.
The island group also has a rich fauna, including several endemic species of birds, such as the Socotra Starling (Onychognathus frater), the Socotra Sunbird (Nectarinia balfouri), Socotra Bunting (Emberiza socotrana), Socotra Cisticola (Cisticola haesitatus), Socotra Sparrow (Passer insularis), Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeak (Rhynchostruthus socotranus), and a species in a monotypic genus, the Socotra Warbler (Incana incana). Many of the bird species are endangered by predation by non-native feral cats. While there are no native amphibians, the reptiles species are over 90 percent endemic to Socotra and include skinks, legless lizards, and one species of chameleon, Chamaeleo monachus.
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.
Over two thousand years of human settlement on the islands have slowly but continuously changed the environment, and according to Jonathan Kingdon, "the animals and plants that remain represent a degraded fraction of what once existed". The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea says the island had crocodiles and large lizards, and the present reptilian fauna appears to be greatly reduced. Until a few centuries ago, there were rivers and wetlands on the island, greater stocks of the endemic trees, and abundant pasture. The Portuguese recorded the presence of water buffaloes in the early 17th century. Now there are only sand gullies, and many native plants only survive where there is greater moisture or protection from livestock. The remaining Socotra fauna is greatly threatened by goats and other introduced species, as well as climate change.
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.
The indigenous inhabitants of Socotra are mainly of Southern Arabian descent, and are said to be especially closely related with the Qara and Mahra groups of Southern Arabia. There are also a number of residents of Somali and Indian origin. In addition, the island is inhabited by various Black African peoples, who are believed to be descendants of runaway slaves.
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 Persian Gulf states.
The majority of male residents on Socotra are reported 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.
Almost all inhabitants of Socotra, numbering nearly 50,000, live on the homonymous main island of the archipelago. The principal city, Hadibu (with a population of 8,545 at the census of 2004); the second largest town, Qulansiyah (population 3,862); and Qād̨ub (population 929) are all located on the north coast of the island of Socotra. Only about 450 people live on 'Abd-al-Kūrī and 100 on Samha; the island of Darsa and the islets of the archipelago are uninhabited.
The archipelago forms two districts of the Hadhramaut Governorate:
The primary occupations of the people of Socotra have traditionally been fishing, animal husbandry, and the cultivation of dates.
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. There is regular service to and from Aden and Sana'a. All scheduled commercial flights make a technical stop at Riyan-Mukalla Airport (ICAO code "OYRN"). Socotra Airport ("OYSQ") is located about 12 km (8 mi) west of the main city, Hadibu, and close to the third largest town in the archipelago, Qād̨ub.Diesel generators make electricity widely available in Socotra. A paved road runs along the north shore from Qulansiyah to Hadibu and then to the DiHamri area; and another paved road, from the northern coast to the southern through the Dixsam Plateau.
The former capital is located to the east of Hadibu. A small Yemeni Army barracks lies at the western end of Hadibu, and the former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has a residence there.
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 project called Socotra Governance and Biodiversity Project have listed following goals from 2009:
Public transport on Socotra is limited to a few minibuses; car hire usually means hiring a 4WD car with driver.
Ships connect the only Socotra port—5 km (3 mi) east of Hadibu—with the Yemeni coastal city of Al Mukalla. According to information from the ports, 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 Riyan Airport. The Sana'a service operates daily, while Aden flights are on Mondays, as of December 2009.
15th century 1415–1640 Ceuta 1458–1550 Alcácer Ceguer (El Qsar es Seghir) 1471–1550 Arzila (Asilah) 1471–1662 Tangier 1485–1550 Mazagan (El Jadida) 1487– middle 16th century Ouadane 1488–1541 Safim (Safi) 1489 Graciosa
16th century 1505–1541 Santa Cruz do Cabo de Gué (Agadir) 1506–1525 Mogador (Essaouira) 1506–1525 Aguz (Souira Guedima) 1506–1769 Mazagan (El Jadida) 1513–1541 Azamor (Azemmour) 1515 São João da Mamora (Mehdya) 1577–1589 Arzila (Asilah)
15th century 1455–1633 Anguim 1462–1975 Cape Verde 1470–1975 São Tomé1 1471–1975 Príncipe1 1474–1778 Annobón 1478–1778 Fernando Poo (Bioko) 1482–1637 Elmina (São Jorge da Mina) 1482–1642 Portuguese Gold Coast 1508–1547 (1600) Madagascar2 1498–1540 Mascarene Islands
16th century 1500–1630 Malindi 1501–1975 Portuguese Mozambique 1502–1659 Saint Helena 1503–1698 Zanzibar 1505–1512 Quíloa (Kilwa) 1506–1511 Socotra 1557–1578 Accra 1575–1975 Portuguese Angola 1588–1974 Cacheu3 1593–1698 Mombassa (Mombasa)
17th century 1645–1888 Ziguinchor 1680–1961 São João Baptista de Ajudá 1687–1974 Bissau318th century 1728–1729 Mombassa (Mombasa) 1753–1975 Portuguese São Tomé and Príncipe19th century 1879–1974 Portuguese Guinea 1885–1975 Portuguese Congo
16th century 1506–1615 Gamru (Bandar Abbas) 1507–1643 Sohar 1515–1622 Hormuz (Ormus) 1515–1648 Quriyat 1515–? Qalhat 1515–1650 Muscat 1515?–? Barka 1515–1633? Julfar (Ras al-Khaimah) 1521–1602 Bahrain (Muharraq and Manama) 1521–1529? Qatif 1521?–1551? Tarut Island 1550–1551 Qatif 1588–1648 Matrah
17th century 1620–? Khor Fakkan 1621?–? As Sib 1621–1622 Qeshm 1623–? Khasab 1623–? Libedia 1624–? Kalba 1624–? Madha 1624–1648 Dibba Al-Hisn 1624?–? Bandar-e Kong
15th century 1420 Madeira 1432 Azores
16th century 1500–1579? Terra Nova (Newfoundland) 1500–1579? Labrador 1516–1579? Nova Scotia
17th century 1621–1751 Maranhão 1680–1777 Nova Colónia do Sacramento18th century 1751–1772 Grão-Pará and Maranhão 1772–1775 Grão-Pará and Rio Negro 1772–1775 Maranhão and Piauí
19th century 1808–1822 Cisplatina (Uruguay) 1809–1817 Portuguese Guiana 1822 Upper Peru (Bolivia)
The boundaries and names shown, and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.
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