Unique biodiversity of Socotra

Thanks to its geographic characteristics, Socotra was given an exclusive chance to develop a unique biodiversity. No other continent or island offers the same set of species of fauna and flora. This is the reason for Socotra’s nickname “Galapagos of the Indian ocean”. While thousands of tourists come to the Ecuador archipelago every year paying sky high prices for a biodiversity tour, Socotra stays yet out of focus. However its 308 endemics out of 835 plants (37 %) rank Socotra among top islands in terms of floristic diversity such as Galapagos (42 % plants endemic) and Mauritius (35 % plants endemic). 

Famous Socotri endemics such as the bottle tree (Adenium obesium, subs. sokotranum), the cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotrana), various types of frankincense (Boswellia) and most important dragon blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari) that has become the symbol of Socotra create a peculiar look of the island that makes it easy to recognize on any photograph.

In fauna, Socotra cannot meet the high standards set up by Galapagos due to lack of endemic mammals. However, the island boasts with high endemism in caves, 28 out of 31 terrestrial reptiles are endemic, 10 birds, 60 % of spiders and all Socotri scorpions are endemic. So you won’t make a mistake to take a picture of any animal you meet during your stay on Socotra. Most likely you won’t be able to get such picture anywhere else in the world.

Biodiversity status of Socotra

The unique species are not spread all around the island; some are located only in less than 10 km2 area. This uniqueness brought Socotra the status of a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve in 2003 that five years later resulted into listing the island as UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. For the diversity in plants, Socotra has been declared a WWF Global 200 Ecoregion, a Plantlife International Centre of Plant Diversity and also included in the Horn of Africa Biodiversity Hotspot, ranking the island among 34 richest and most threatened reservoirs of plants and animal life on Earth. The Birdlife International pronounced Socotra as one of the world’s 218 Endemic Bird Areas - critical regions for the conservation of the world's birds and other biodiversity.The International Union for Conservation of Nature names 52 endemic Socotri plants in the Red List of Threatened Species.

Dangers to Socotra biodiversity                                     

Socotra is still relatively pristine compared to other islands in the world. Nevertheless a loss of biodiversity and extinction is several times larger on islands than on continents. Therefore special attention must be paid to ongoing development and tourism activities on Socotra in order to prevent direct damages on nature. Tourists are encouraged to embrace the eco-tourism values and to leave behind as tiny footprint as possible.  

Current threats Socotra has been facing are overexploitation, loss of traditional knowledge, vegetation loss due to overgrazing and soil erosion, habitat fragmentation caused by roads constructions, invasive species introduced to the island from outside, tourism and smuggling of animals and plants. Export of biological materials is strictly prohibited from Socotra however it is still possible to find local species traded on the Internet. 

The best place where to see endemic and endangered Socotri plants is Adeeb’s nursery on the eastern outskirt of Hadibo. It serves as an education resource and a collection site from which the plants are replanted back to their natural habitat.

Socotra biodiversity conservation projects

First international projects aimed on conservation of local biodiversity came to the island back in 1990s. Design of the protected areas, awareness and introduction of sustainable methods of fishing, gardening etc. belong to their most successful results. Those interested in development projects can visit the Environment Protection Authority building outside Hadibo by the road to the airport to get more information.  

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