Nature

The most beautiful islands: The alien beauty of Socotra Island

February 24, 2019
They call it the most alien-looking place on Earth, but Socotra Island is definitely one of the most beautiful islands as well. Part of an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, The island of Socotra is so isolated that more than a third of its plant life is endemic, meaning that it is found nowhere else on Earth. The Archipelago of Socotra has been totally isolated from any large landmass for millions of years. That is why it is now home to an astonishing display of biodiversity. This unique diversity makes Socotra one of the most beautiful islands on Earth. They say that if you fall asleep and wake up on Socotra Island you might think that you have been abducted by aliens, the Island does not look like anywhere else on the planet. So let’s discover the unparalleled beauty of one of the most beautiful islands in the world, take a look at Socotra Island.

What does the Island look like?

Located between the Guardafui Channel and the Arabian Sea, Socotra Island is the largest of the four islands that make the Socotra archipelago. The three smaller islands are Abd al Kuri, Samhah and Darsa. The territory is officially part of Yemen, and had always been a subdivision of the Aden Governorate. However in 2013, the archipelago became its own governorate, the Socotra Governorate. 240 kilometers east off the coast of Cape Guardafui and 380 kilometers south of the Arabian Peninsula, The Island is seriously isolated. It is one of the most isolated landforms on the planet of continental origin rather than of volcanic origin.

How long has it been on the map?

Despite its isolation, the Island of Socotra has been a significant stop in trading routs surfing the Indian Ocean for many years. In 2001 a group of scientists of the Socotra Karst Project investigated a cave on the island where they found a large number of inscriptions, drawings and diverse archaeological objects. Additional examination showed that these findings had been left by sailors who visited the island between the 1st century BC and the 6th century AD. Even though Marco Polo did not pass anywhere near the island, his travels stated a report about what he heard of its inhabitants through his journey. He heard that the inhabitants of the unique island practiced ancient magic rituals despite being baptized Christians. However these might just be the tales of the sailors as he has never been there himself.

How many endemic species are there?

Socotra Island is an oasis of biodiversity in the Middle East. The island is definitely one of the most beautiful islands in the world after the rain, when those most unusual plants are in full bloom, and the most unusual birds are chirping. A team of United Nations biologists conducted a study of the archipelago’s flora and fauna In the 1990s. They counted nearly 700 endemic species, found nowhere else on earth. No wonder the island looks so alien! One of the most renowned as well as the most unusual endemic plants in Socotra Island is the dragon's blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari). This weird-looking tree with its snugly-bundled branches that look like upside down roots has a red sap that people in ancient times thought to be the blood of dragons. This plant is locally known as Dam al-Akhawain, which means blood of the two brothers. The island is also home to numerous endemic fauna, mainly birds and reptiles. Unfortunately many endemic bird species are endangered as a result of predation by non-native feral cats. The good news is that the island was recognized by UNESCO as a world natural heritage site in July 2008.

Who lives on Socotra Island?

Most of the inhabitants of Socotra live on the main island of the archipelago, specifically in the main city, Hadibu. The other islands are either sparsely inhabited or uninhabited. Unique to the core, the main language of the people in Ssocotra is The Semitic language Soqotri, spoken only in Socotra. People of Socotra have traditionally worked in fishing, raising cattle, and cultivating dates. The island's exports mainly consist of dates, fish, ghee and tobacco.

How can I go there?

The construction of a new airport in 1999 opened Socotra to the outside world. Regular flights are available to and from Aden and Sana'a. Moving around the island though is another matter. Road construction has been deemed as damaging to the island and its ecosystem. For more eco-friendly alternatives, companies have started offering bicycle for touring the island. There is a port on Socotra as well; Ships connect the port with the Yemeni coastal city of Mukalla. However, the service is used mostly for cargo.