Native name: سُقُطْرَى

Landsat view over Socotra
Location Indian Ocean
Coordinates 12°30′36″N 53°55′12″E / 12.51°N 53.92°E / 12.51; 53.92Coordinates: 12°30′36″N 53°55′12″E / 12.51°N 53.92°E / 12.51; 53.92
Archipelago Socotra islands
Total islands 4
Major islands Socotra, Abd al Kuri, Samhah, Darsah
Area 3,796 km2 (1,465.6 sq mi)
Highest elevation 1,503 m (4,931 ft)
Highest point unnamed point in the Haghier Mountains
Governorate Hadhramaut
Districts Hadibu (east)
Qulansiyah wa 'Abd-al-Kūrī (west)
Largest city Hadibu (pop. 8,545)
Population 42,842 (as of 2004 census)
Density 11.3 /km2 (29.3 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups predominantly Arab; but also Afro-Arab, South Asian, Somali and European
Additional information
Official name: Socotra Archipelago
Type: Natural
Criteria: x
Designated: 2008 (32nd session)
Reference #: 1263
State Party:  Yemen
Region: Arab States

Socotra (Arabic: سُقُطْرَىSuquṭra), also spelt Soqotra, is a small archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean. The largest island, also called Socotra, is about 95% of the landmass of the archipelago. It lies some 240 kilometres (150 mi) east of the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometres (240 mi) south of the Arabian Peninsula.[1] 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.[2]

Socotra is part of the Republic of Yemen. It had long been a part of the 'Adan Governorate, but in 2004 it became attached to the Hadhramaut Governorate, which is in much greater proximity to the island than 'Adan (although the nearest governorate is Al Mahrah).



Map of the Socotra archipelago

There was initially an Oldoway (or Oldowan) culture in Socotra. Oldoway stone tools were found in the area around Hadibo by V.A. Zhukov, a member of the Russian Complex Expedition in 2008.[3][4]

Socotra appears as Dioskouridou ("of Dioscurides") in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a 1st century AD 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").[5] A recent discovery of texts in several languages, including a wooden tablet in Palmyrene dated to the 3rd century AD, indicate the diverse origins of those who used Socotra as a trading base in antiquity.[6]

A local tradition holds that the inhabitants were converted to Christianity by Thomas the Apostle in AD 52. In the 10th century, the Arab geographer Abu Muhammad al-Hasan al-Hamdani stated that in his time most of the inhabitants were Christians.[citation needed] Socotra is also mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo, according to which "the inhabitants are baptised Christians and have an 'archbishop'" who, it is further explained, "has nothing to do with the Pope in Rome, but is subject to an archbishop who lives at Baghdad". They were Nestorians but also practised ancient magic rituals despite the warnings of their archbishop.[7]

In 1507, a fleet commanded by Tristão da Cunha with Afonso de Albuquerque landed an occupying force at the then capital of Suq. Their objective was a Portuguese base to stop Arab commerce from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, and to liberate the presumed friendly Christians from 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, as it was not advantageous as a base.[8] The island was also come across by Somali sailors.[citation needed]

The islands passed under the control of the Mahra sultans in 1511. Later, in January 1876, 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.[citation needed] 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 Yemen.

Somali pirates have begun using Socotra as a refueling stop for hijacked maritime vessels.[9]

Geography and climate

Halah Cave (كهف حالة) east of the island. Stalagmites and stalactites show how high it can reach compared to the 1.7 metres (5.6 ft) man with the torch. It is several hundred metres deep, with total darkness.

Socotra is one of the most isolated landforms on Earth of continental origin (i.e. not of volcanic origin).[citation needed] The archipelago was once part of the supercontinent of Gondwana and detached during the Miocene, in the same set of rifting events that opened the Gulf of Aden to its northwest.

The archipelago consists of the main island of Socotra (3,665 km2 (1,415 sq mi)), the three smaller islands of Abd al Kuri, Samhah and Darsa and small rock outcrops like Ka'l Fir'awn and Sābūnīyah that are uninhabitable by humans but important for seabirds.[10]

The main island has three geographical terrains: the narrow coastal plains, a limestone plateau permeated with karstic caves, and the Haghier Mountains.[11] The mountains rise to 1,503 metres (4,931 ft)[12]. The island is about 125 kilometres (78 mi) long and 45 kilometres (28 mi) north to south.[13]

The climate of Socotra is classified in the Köppen climate classification as BWh and BSh, meaning a tropical desert climate and semi-desert climate with a mean annual temperature over 18 °C (64 °F). Yearly rainfall is light, but is fairly spread throughout the year. Generally the higher inland areas receive more rain than the coastal lowlands, due to orographic lift provided by the interior mountains.[citation needed] The monsoon season brings strong winds and high seas.

Climate data for Socotra
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 27.2
Daily mean °C (°F) 22.0
Average low °C (°F) 16.8
Precipitation mm (inches) 23
humidity 23 18 14 22 37 18 12 15 27 38 18 16 21.5
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.0 mm) 2.0 2.0 2.1 3.4 4.1 6.0 9.7 9.3 4.9 3.2 3.0 3.0 52.7
Source: Climate of Socotra — Climatic Research Unit — University of East Anglia [1]

Flora and fauna

Endemic tree species Dracaena cinnabari
An 1890s photograph of endemic tree species Dendrosicyos socotrana, the cucumber tree, by Henry Ogg Forbes

Socotra is considered the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea.[14] The long geological isolation of the Socotra archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create a unique and spectacular endemic flora. Botanical field surveys led by the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) indicate that 307 out of the 825 (37%) plant species on Socotra are endemic, i.e., they are found nowhere else on Earth.[15] The entire flora of the Socotra Archipelago has been assessed for the IUCN Red List, with 3 Critically Endangered and 27 Endangered plant species currently recognised.[15]

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 thought to be the dragon's blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and a dye,[citation needed] and today used as paint and varnish.[15] 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, Moraceae, the cucumber tree Dendrosicyos socotranus, the rare Socotran pomegranate (Punica protopunica), Aloe perryi and Boswellia socotrana.[16]

The island group also has a rich bird fauna, including several endemic species of birds, such as the Socotra Starling (Onychognathus frater), the Socotra Sunbird (Nectarinia balfouri), Socotra Bunting (Emberiza socotrana), Island Cisticola (Cisticola haesitatus), Socotra Sparrow (Passer insularis) and Socotra Grosbeak (Rhynchostruthus socotranus), many of which are endangered by non-native feral cats.[17] There is even an endemic monotypic genus of birds, the Socotra Warbler (Incana incana).[16]

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.[16] There is concern that introduced species, such as goats, may present a threat to the native flora of Socotra in the future.

UNESCO recognition

The island was recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world natural heritage site in July 2008. The European Union has supported such a move, calling on both UNESCO and International Organisation of Protecting Environment to classify the island archipelago among the environmental heritages.[18]

People and economy

The inhabitants are of Arab, Somali, and South Asian origins. They follow Islam and speak Soqotri, a Semitic language. Their primary occupations have been fishing, animal husbandry, and the cultivation of dates. Almost all inhabitants of Socotra, numbering nearly 50,000,[14] live on the homonymous main island of the archipelago. The principal city, Hadibu (with a population of 8,545 at the census of 2004); the second largest town, Qulansiyah (population 3,862); and Qād̨ub (population 929)[citation needed] are all located on the north coast of the island of Socotra. Only a few hundred people live on the islands of 'Abd-al-Kūrī and Samha; the island of Darsa and the islets of the archipelago are uninhabited.[citation needed]

The archipelago forms two districts of the Hadhramaut Governorate:

  • the district of Hadibu (حديبو), with a population of 32,285 and a district seat at Hadibu, consists of the eastern two-thirds of the main island of Socotra;
  • the district of Qulansiyah wa 'Abd-al-Kūrī (قلنسيه وعبد الكوري), with a population of 10,557 and a district seat at Qulansiyah, consists of the minor islands (the island of 'Abd-al-Kūrī chief among them) and the western third of the main island.

Monsoons long made the archipelago inaccessible from June to September each year. However, in July 1999, a new airport opened Socotra to the outside world year round, with both Yemen Airways and Felix Airways providing flights once a week to Aden and everyday to Sana'a. All flights stop at Riyan-Mukalla Airport (ICAO code "RIY"). Socotra Island Airport ("OYSQ") is located about 12 km (8 mi) west of the main city, Hadibu, and close to the third largest town in the archipelago, Qād̨ub.[19] Diesel generators make electricity widely available in Socotra, but even in Hadibu there is no electricity from 5:00 a.m. until 9:00 a.m. daily.[citation needed] An excellent paved road runs along the north shore from Qulansiyah to Hadibu and then to the DiHamri area; and another paved road, from the northern coast to the southern through the Dixsam Plateau.[citation needed] Public transport is limited in Socotra; taxis are available only as a kind of rent-a-car service of four-wheel-drive vehicles with drivers.[citation needed]

The former capital is located to the east of Hadibu. A small Yemeni Army barracks lies at the western end of Hadibu, and the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has a residence there.[citation needed]

The Semitic language Soqotri, spoken originally only in Socotra, is related to such other Modern South Arabian languages on the Arabian mainland as Mehri, Harsusi, Bathari, Shehri, and Hobyot. Soqotri is also spoken by minority populations in the United Arab Emirates 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.[citation needed]

The majority of male residents on Socotra are reported to be in the J* subclade of Y-DNA haplogroup J. Several of the female lineages on the island, notably those in mtDNA haplogroup N, are found nowhere else on earth.[citation needed]


Public transport on Socotra is limited to infrequent minibuses to Qulansiyah and to the villages on northeastern coast, car hire usually means hiring a 4WD car with driver.

Ships connect the only Socotra port – 5 km (3 mi) east of Hadibu – with the Yemeni coastal city of Al Mukalla. According to information from the ports, the journey takes 2–3 days and the service is used mostly for cargo.

Yemenia and Felix Airways fly from Socotra Airport to Sana'a and Aden via Al Mukalla (RIY — Riyan Airport). The Sana'a service operates daily, while Aden flights are on Mondays, as of December 2009.



  1. ^ "Socotra islands scenery in Yemen". 25 April 2008. 
  2. ^ "The Most Alien-Looking Place on Earth". Dark Roasted Blend. 4 September 2008. 
  3. ^ Amirkhanov, K.A.; Zhukov, V.A.; Haumkin, V.V.; Sedov, A.V. (2009). "Эпоха олдована открыта на острове Сокотра" (in Russian). Pripoda (7). 
  4. ^ Davuov, O. M.; Shunkov, M. V.. "Международньій Симлозиум «Древнейшие Миграции Человека В Евразии» Махачкала, 6 – 12 сентября 2009 года". 
  5. ^ Huntingford, George Wynn Brereton (1980). The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Hakluyt Society. p. 103. ISBN 0-904180-05-0. 
  6. ^ Sidebotham, Steven E. (2011). Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route. California. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-520-24430-6. 
  7. ^ Polo, Marco (1958). The Travels of Marco Polo. Translated and with an Introduction by Ronald Latham. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044057-7. 
  8. ^ Diffie, Bailey Wallys; Winius, George Davison (1977). Foundations of the Portuguese empire, 1415–1580. University of Minnesota Press. p. 233. ISBN 0816607826. 
  9. ^ Saul, Jonathan (5 July 2011). "Somali pirates use Yemen island as fuel base". Reuters. Retrieved 30 August 2011. 
  10. ^ Shobrak, Mohammed; Alsuhaibany, Abdullah; Al-Sagheir, Omer (November 2003). "Status of Breeding Seabirds in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden" (in English and Arabic) (PDF). PERSGA/GEF Technical Series (Jeddah, Saudia Arabia: Regional Organization for Conservation of Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA)) (8). 
  11. ^ "Socotra Fauna and Flora". 
  12. ^ "Socotra High Point, Yemen". Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  13. ^ "Natural History". DBT Socotra Adventure Tour. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  14. ^ a b FACTBOX-Socotra, jewel of biodiversity in Arabian Sea. Reuters, 2008-04-23
  15. ^ a b c Miller, A.G.; Morris, M. (2004). Ethnoflora of the Socotra Archipelago. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. 
  16. ^ a b c Kingdon, Jonathan (1989). Island Africa: The Evolution of Africa's Rare Plants and Animals. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 38–42. ISBN 0-691-08560-9. 
  17. ^ Burdick, Alan (25 March 2007). "The Wonder Land of Socotra". T Magazine. New York: New York Times. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 
  18. ^ "EU to protect Socotra archipelago environment". Saba Net. Yemen News Agency (SABA). 15 April 2008. 
  19. ^


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  • Doe, D. Brian (1992). Socotra: Island of Tranquility. London: Immel. 
  • Elie, Serge D. (November 2006). "Soqotra: South Arabia's Strategic Gateway and Symbolic Playground". British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 33 (2): 131–160. doi:10.1080/13530190600953278. ISSN 1353-0194. 
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  • Elie, Serge D. (2008). "The Waning of Soqotra's Pastoral Community: Political Incorporation as Social Transformation". Human Organization 67 (3): 335–345. 
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  • Naumkin, V. V. and A. V. Sedov (1993). "Monuments of Socotra." In: Athens, Aden, Arikamedu: Essays on the interrelations between India, Arabia and the Eastern Mediterranean, pp. 193–250. Edited by Marie-Françoise Boussac and Jean-François Salles. First published in 1995 in Topoi, vol. 3/2 (1993), Lyons, France, pp. 387–623. Reprint 2005, by Ajay Kumar Jain for Manohar, Publishers, Delhi. ISBN 81-7304-079-6.
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  • 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)

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Socotra — o Soqotra (Árabe سقطرة Suquṭrah) es un pequeño archipiélago de cuatro islas en el Océano Índico frente a las costas del Cuerno de África a unos 350 km de la República de Yemen, que administra Socotra en nombre del Banu Afrar Mahra Sultanate of… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Socotra — Socotra, Insel, s. Sokotra …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Socotra — ou Socotora (en ar. Suqutrâ) île de l océan Indien, dépendance de la république du Yémen, à 250 km à l E. du cap Guardafui; 3 626 km²; 15 000 hab.; ch. l. Tamridah …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Socotra —   [səʊ kəʊtrə, englisch], Inselgruppe im Indischen Ozean, Sokotra …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Socotra — [sō kō′trə] island of Yemen, in the Indian Ocean, off the E tip of Africa: 1,351 sq mi (3,499 sq km) …   English World dictionary

  • Socotra — Archipiélago de Socotra (سقطرة Suquṭrah) …   Wikipedia Español

  • Socotra —  Pour l’article homonyme, voir Archipel de Socotra.  Socotra سقطرى (ar) …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Socotra — Socotran, n., adj. /soh koh treuh, sok euh treuh/, n. an island in the Indian Ocean, S of Arabia: a part of the Republic of Yemen; 1382 sq. mi. (3579 sq. km). Also, Sokotra. * * * Island, Yemen, in the Indian Ocean. Located about 210 mi (340 km)… …   Universalium

  • Socotra — Lage der Insel Sokotra (auch Socotra oder Sukutra; arabisch ‏سقطرى‎ Suqutrā, DMG Suquṭrā) ist eine Insel und der Name einer Inselgruppe im nordwestlichen Indischen Ozean …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Socotra — geographical name island Indian Ocean E of Gulf of Aden in Yemen; chief town Tamridah area 1400 square miles (3640 square kilometers), population 8000 …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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