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For the submerged rock/islet, see Socotra Rockmarker.

Map of the Socotra archipelago
Socotra or Soqotra (Arabic سُقُطْرَى ; ) is a small archipelago of four islands in the Indian Oceanmarker off the coast of the Horn of Africa some south of the Arabian peninsula. It 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[56217].

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

Geography and climate

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 rift events that opened the Gulf of Adenmarker to its northwest.

The archipelago consists of the main island of Socotra ( ), the three smaller islands of Abd al Kurimarker, Samhahmarker, and Darsamarker, 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 . The island is a little over long east to west and typically north to south.

The climate for Socotra is classified by climatologists as BWh, meaning dry desert with a mean annual temperature over 18°C (64°F). Yearly rainfall is light, and tends to occur during the Northern Hemisphere winter. 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 seamarker.The long geological isolation of the Socotra archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create a unique and spectacular endemic flora (which may, therefore, be vulnerable to introduced species such as goats). Surveys have revealed that more than a third of the 800 or so plant species of Socotra are found nowhere else. Botanists rank the flora of Socotra among the ten most endangered island flora in the world. The archipelago is a site of global importance for biodiversity conservation and a possible center for ecotourism.

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 the dragon's blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and 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, and the rare Socotran pomegranate, Punica protopunica.

The island group also has a rich bird fauna, including a few types of endemic 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.

UNESCO recognition

The island was recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizationmarker (UNESCO) as a world natural heritage site in July 2008. The European Union has supported such a move, calling on both UNESCO and International Organization 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 occupation has been fishing, livestock rearing and date cultivation. Almost all inhabitants of Socotra, numbered at 50,000, live on the main island. The principal city is Hadibohmarker (population 8,545 at the census of 2004). The second largest town is Qulansiyah, with a population of 3,862, followed by Qād̨ub, population 929. Those three main towns are all located on the north coast. 'Abd-al-Kūrī and Samha have a population of a few hundred people between them; Darsa and the remaining islands are uninhabited.

The archipelago forms two districts of the Hadhramaut Governoratemarker:
  • Hadībū (حديبو), capital H̨adībūmarker, consisting of about the eastern two thirds of the main island of Socotra, with a population of 32,285
  • Qulansiyah wa 'Abd-al-Kūrī (قلنسيه وعبد الكوري), capital Qulansiyah, consisting of the western third of the main island, and the minor islands, specifically 'Abd-al-Kūrī, with a population of 10,557

Traditionally, the archipelago has been inaccessible from June to September due to monsoon weather. However, in July 1999 a new airport opened Socotra to the outside year round, with Yemenia providing flights once a week to Adenmarker and Sanaamarker. Socotra Island Airport is located about 12 km west of the main city, H̨adībū, and close to the third largest city, Qād̨ub. Its ICAOmarker code is OYSQ. Electricity is widely available in Socotra with installations of diesel generators, but in Hadibohmarker there is no electricity from 5am until 9am daily. There are two excellent paved roads: one along the north shore from Quelensiyah to Hadiboh and then to DiHamri area, and another from the north coast to the south coast through the Dixsam plateau. There is neither public transport nor taxis available on Socotra island, but rent-a-car service is available. The former capital is located to the east of Hadiboh. On the western end of Hadiboh lies a small Yemeni army barracks. The President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has a residence there as well.

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


There is no public transport, but car rental is available.Socotra Airportmarker has nearly daily flights connecting the island with Yemeni mainland.


Not later then 1.4 million years ago, there was an Oldoway culture in Socotra. Oldoway stone tools were found in the area around Hadibomarker 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 Mohammed Al-Hassan 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 baptized Christians and have an archbishop" who, it is further explained, "has nothing to do with the Pope at 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, the fleet of Tristão da Cunha with Afonso de Albuquerque landed an occupying force at the then capital of Suq, searching a Portuguesemarker base to stop the Red Sea commerce to the Indian sea, and to liberate the assumed friendly Christians from Arab 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 islands passed under the control of the Mahra sultans in 1511. Later, in 1886 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 Yemenmarker.


  1. FACTBOX-Socotra, jewel of biodiversity in Arabian Sea. Reuters, 2008-04-23
  2. EU to protect Socotra archipelago environment
  5. Амирханов Х.А., Жуков В.А., Наумкин В.В., Седов А.В. "Эпоха олдована открыта на острове Сокотра"."Природа", № 7/2009


  • Biedermann, Zoltán. 2006. Soqotra, Geschichte einer christlichen Insel im Indischen Ozean vom Altertum bis zur frühen Neuzeit (Maritime Asia 17). Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3-447-05421-8
  • Botting, Douglas. 1958. Island of the Dragon's Blood. (2nd edition 2006. ISBN 9781904246213.)
  • Casson, Lionel. 1989. The Periplus Maris Erythraei. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04060-5 .
  • Cheung, Catherine & DeVantier, Lyndon. 2006. Socotra: A Natural History of the Islands and their People. Edited by Kay Van Damme. Odyssey Books & Guides, ISBN 962-217-770-0.
  • Doe, D. Brian. 1970. Socotra: An Archaeological Reconnaissance in 1967. Edited by Henry Field and Edith M. Laird. Field Research Projects, Miami.
  • Doe, D. Brian. Socotra: Island of Tranquility. London: Immel, 1992.
  • Agafonov, Vladimir. Temethel as the Brightest Element of Soqotran Folk Poetry. Folia Orientalia, vol. 42/43, 2006/07, pp. 241–249
  • Elie, D. Serge. Soqotra: South Arabia’s Strategic Gateway and Symbolic Playground. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, November 2006, 33(2), 131–160 ISSN 1353-0194 ISSN 1469-3542
  • Elie, D. Serge. Hadiboh: From Peripheral Village to Emerging City. Chroniques Yemenites, 12 (2004)
  • Polo, Marco. The Travels of Marco Polo. Translated and with an Introduction by Ronald Latham. Penguin Books, 1958, pp=296-297, ISBN 0-14-044057-7.
  • RBGE Soqotra Bibliography: at RBGE and Friends of Soqotra websites.
  • Schoff, Wilfred H. 1912. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, Second Edition. Reprint: New Delhi, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation. 1974. (A new hardback edition is available from Coronet Books Inc. Also reprinted by South Asia Books, 1995, ISBN 81-215-0699-9)

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