Socotra is a small archipelago of four islands (named Socotra, Darsah, Samha and Abd al-Kuri) in the Indian Ocean. The largest island, also called Socotra (approximately 125 km long, 44 km wide) is about 95% of the landmass of the archipelago. It lies off some 240 km (150 mi) east of the Horn of Africa and 380 km (240 mi) south of the Arabian Peninsula. Socotra is more closely linked with Africa than Arabia, that makes it a unique island of hybrid flavors.
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. Being virtually isolated from the rest of the world for a long period, Socotra remains one of the most fascinating places on earth. The very high degree of endemism makes the island an important place in terms of global wildlife conservation.
Its separation from Africa is believed to have occurred approx. six million years ago: as a result, many animals and plants living today on the island, are endemic species. This island finds itself at a convergence of cultures due to its strategic location in incense trade. Throughout centuries Socotra has seen the influence of many African groups and European nations including Greek, Portuguese and British. The native Socotrans are simple, kind, and hospitable to visiting tourists.
It is believed that some of the plants and animals found on Socotra are ancient relics of a much larger land mass which has been preserved here as a result of the fact that the Haghir Massif has not been totally submerged for at least 135 million years. The absence on any indigenous mammals is reported to be further indication of its very ancient origins, possibly from time before mammals appeared on earth.
There are two annual monsoons.
The south-west monsoon, which kicks up high seas around the island from late May to early September (this monsoon occasionally brings heavy rains in June) and has created a physical barrier to access Socotra by sea, since the earliest times. These intercontinental stratospheric winds blow from Africa towards the Himalaya Mountains, bringing the wet to India. But as they pass over Socotra they are caught by the nearly 5000 ft. Hagghier mountains and dragged fiercely down over the northern coast. The wind blows on the north coast for three months at approximately 90 kilometers per hour with some gusts at 180 kph, in the area of Hadibo, between Haulaf and Momi.
The north-east monsoon from April to May delivers a smaller amount of precipitation.
The annual rainfall varies between 130 to 170 mm/hour. Even during the calmer months sea landings may still be difficult due to a combination of logistical problems, including the absence of adequate harbor facilities. In 1999, a new airstrip was built (the longest in Yemen) facing into the monsoon winds, allowing the Boeing planes the ability to land all year round. So as tourists you can come to Socotra at any time, depending on what you want to experience.
Socotra weather patterns for tourists travel:
- September: Coming out of the windy season, and is still somehow windy on the north coast. The sea is just navigable, usually no rain and the temperature still quite warm.
- October: Wind now on shore, (usually just a breeze) from the North East, usually bringing some rains to the island, but maybe only a few days of intermittent heavy and scattered showers. Usually most parts of the island get the effects of this rain. In some years in the past there was no rain in October and the temperature was cooling down, but still warm.
- November, December, January and February: these are the pleasant months. There can still be rain in November, even into December, but usually only scattered, and not very frequent. The sea begins to calm down, and travel in small boats is possible. The best month to travel to the islands is February or better still March/ April. On the Hagghier Mountains everything is green so there has been a good rain up there, and also behind the mountains. On the top of the mountains, especially at Skand at this time, the temperature can be very cold with frosty mornings. At other times the mountains are swept by wind gusts all day, which drive clouds across the top at break kneck speed, and lift your tent off the ground!!
- March, April and May: warming up, and at mid March the midday temperature can be 30 degrees centigrade, with developing humidity. April and May are quite hot, up to 38 degrees near the coasts, and still the weather is coming gently from the north east. But it is quite a lot cooler on the top of the mountain range, and at Skand you would still need a covering at night to keep warm, but probably not a sleeping bag. These are the best months to visit the island. Sometimes there are more rains in April (a couple of days) or even in May.
- June, July & August: these are the very windy months on the north coast especially. The south coast is fairly calm at the same time. The winds blow in Hadibo day and night for three months at about 80 kph, only slacking off most days for an hour or two in the afternoon to perhaps 60kph. Gusts have been recorded at the port area, Haulaf, at 180kph. These winds are the base of the big inter-continental winds that blow at this time of the year from the high pressure over Africa to the low pressure over the Himalayas, bringing the monsoon to the Indian sub-continent. The tops of the mountains catch these winds and pull them down over the north coast of Socotra. Schools close, and fishing stops, except for a couple of places such as Delisha, but all round the island fishing is limited by the strong ocean currents at this time of the year. At this time the temperature drops by about 5 degrees centigrade, but it is not really a time for normal tourism except for surfing. The weather is still calmer in the middle of the island and the south, so it is possible to make tours on the other side of the island (the southern west side). There are no rains accompanying these winds. The Boeing aircraft land and take off safely throughout this period, because the airstrip is straight up and down the wind direction allowing planes land and take off straight into the wind.
Flora: amazing trees VIDEO
Scientists first reached the remote Socotra Archipelago in 1880, when Scottish botanist Isaac Bailey Balfour collected around 500 plants and over 200 were species new to science. Today, approximately 900 vascular plants have been recorded from Socotra, of which almost 300 (including some species restricted to Abd al Kuri) are found nowhere else (i.e. endemic species).
Many plants are strange-looking remnants of ancient floras which long ago disappeared from the African/Arabian mainland. Socotra’s flora has strong links with adjacent parts of Somalia and Arabia but some species and genera have interesting disjunctive distributions: Dracaena cinnabar, the Dragon’s Blood tree, is a tertiary relict with related species in southern Arabia, north-east Africa and the Canary Islands; species of Kalanchoe and Helichrysum show strong links with southern African species but perhaps the most strange distribution is that shown by the genus Thamnosma with T. socotrana on Socotra and related species in southern Arabia, south-west Africa and south-west North America.
Socotran’s flora includes plants which can be considered taxonomic relicts, that is with no close relatives, these include:
- Dirachma socotrana, one of only two species in the Dirachmaceae, a family related to the Malvaceae but with an interesting mixture of characters including 8 merous flowers, stamens opposite the petals and fruits with a dehiscence similar to that found in Geranium;
- Dendrosicyos soqotranus the only arborescent member of the Cucurbitaceae;
- Wellstedia a small shrub of boraginaceous affinities but which is sometimes placed in a family of its own.
There is one sub-endemic family – the Dirachmaceae (recently a second species has been found in Somalia) and ten endemic genera: Angkalanthus, Ballochia and Trichocalyx (Acanthaceae), Duvaliandra and Soqotranthus (Asclepiadaceae), Haya (Caryophyllaceae), Lachnocapsa (Cruciferae), Dendrosicyos (Cucurbitaceae), Placoda (Rubiaceae) and Nirarathamnos (Umbelliferae).
The families richest in endemics are Compositae, Acanthaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Labiatae and Asclepiadaceae.
Perhaps the most notable of these are the podagrics or swollen-stemmed trees, these include:
- Dendrosicyos socotranus – which somewhat resembles a small baobab;
- Dorstenia gigas and Adenium obesum ssp. socotranum.
One of the most interesting trees, and an important potential genetic resource is Punica protopunica. This is related to the pomegranate (P. granatum) but has smaller and less palatable fruits and is the only other species in the family Punicaceae. Several species on Socotra are of horticultural interest for instance Begonia socotrana, the hybrid parent of winter-flowering begonias, and Exacum affine – the Persian violet.
The least studied groups are the lichens, bryophytes and fungi. The people living on Socotra, especially the Bedouins, have a thorough knowledge of the flora, and many of the plants have traditional uses, such as providing livestock fodder, fuel, building materials, foods, gums, or resins. The majority of islanders still rely on livestock – and thus of necessity on the vegetation – for their survival and the many sheep, goats, camels, cattle and donkeys of the island are supported solely by the island’s vegetation.
Plant extracts are still used in medicines, cosmetic and hygiene preparations, and in the manufacture of cordage, as a source of insecticide, and in tanning and dyeing.
Socotra’s fauna is just fascinating. Among the land birds, Socotra island is a home to 180 species of birds 6 species are endemic, ((Socotra sparrow – Socotra Cisticola – Socotra Starling – Socotra Sun bird –Socotra Warbler – and the rarest Socotra Bunting (estimated with 1000 specimens alive)). as well as 14 sub-species, are restricted to Socotra. And also it’s a host point for many immigrated/breeding birds of over 45 species such as Flamingos, Kettle Egrets, Reef Hearns, Gulls, etc. And the highest density in the world for Egyptian Vulture has registered on the island.
More work is still needed to clarify the status of other species.
There are 190 species of butterfly and with a large number of endemics. The reptilian and insects fauna is also very rich 600 species of insects with 90% with high proportion of endemic. The reptilian fauna is also very rich with 19 out of a total of 22 species regarded as endemics.
Goats, shapes, caws, donkeys, and camels are common to come across. Bats and civil cat is the only mammals native to the island.
In the marine world Socotra has taken a spectacular place as it has mixture of species from different biogeography regions- the western Indian Ocean, the Red sea, East Africa and the wider Indo-Pacific. Despite of the small archipelago, Socotra Island is home to more than 680 Species of fishes are comparable to those of the Red Sea. And about 230 species of hard corals (five are endemics) and 30 species of soft corals. In addition to 300 species of crustacean (nine are endemics), 490 species of mollusks, and 230 species of algae. Sea-turtles also nest on the north of the island but there is a need for more work on these (as with almost all Socotra’s wildlife). An endemic fresh-water crab, Potamon socotrensis, is common in the temporary water-courses. In general the fresh-water habitats of the island have been little studied and it is still not clear whether there are endemic freshwater fish living there. Among the insects it is not surprising to find many forms with reduced wings, lessening the likelihood that they are blown off the island.