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Flora and Fauna

Socotra is rich in terms of biodiversity, comparing favorably with such island groups as Galapagos, Mauritius, and the Canary Islands. It has been referred to as the “jewel” of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea.

The long geological isolation of the Socotra archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create a unique and spectacular endemic flora. Surveys have revealed that of a total of nearly 900 species, a 37 percent are endemic; ranking it in the top five islands in terms of endemic flora.

Botanists rank the Socotra flora among the ten most endangered island flora in the world, vulnerable to introduced species (such as goats), climate change, and modernization. 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 an unusual looking, umbrella-shaped tree.

Lore has it that its red sap was the dragon’s blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and a dye. Another unusual plant is Dorstenia gigas, a succulent that can grow to eight feet tall and have a trunk of up to two feet or more in diameter.

The island group also has a fairly 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. As with many isolated island systems, bats are the only mammals native to Socotra. In contrast, the marine biodiversity around Socotra is rich, characterized by a unique mixture of species that have originated in far-flung biogeographic regions: the western Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, Arabia, East Africa and the wider Indo-Pacific.

Conservation

In 1996 Yemen ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty that was adopted in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 and entered into force on December 29, 1993. Also in 1996, Yemen declared the Socotra Archipelago a special, natural area in urgent need of protection.

The CBD covers all ecosystems, species, and genetic resources and links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biological resources sustainably. It sets principles for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, notably those destined for commercial use. Importantly, the Convention is legally binding; countries that join it (‘Parties’) are obliged to implement its provisions. This is seen as a means of a possible boost to Socotra’s economy as well as a way to provide protection to the natural environment.

The island was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a natural World Heritage Site in July 2008. The European Union has supported such a move, calling on both UNESCO and the International Organization of Protecting Environment to classify the island archipelago among the environmental heritages