Galapagos of the Indian Ocean
Soqotra (also spelled Sokotra, Socotra, Arabic Suqutra) is a small archipelago of islands and islets in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa some 350 km (260 miles) south of the Republic of Yemen, the island has the shape of a stretched crescent and has a length of 130 km and a width of 40 km.
The archipelago consists of the mountainous main island of Socotra (3625 squae km ) and three smaller islands, Abd Al Kuri, Samha with a few hundred people and the uninhabited Darsa, and other uninhabitable rock outcrops. Itsrainfall is light, seasonal and limited to certain areas. Socotra has three geographical terrains: the narrow coastal plains, a limestone plateau permeated with karstic caves, and the Haghier mountains. Socotra is one of the most isolated bits of land on earth. The island probably detached from Africa as a fault block during the Middle Pliocene (ca 6 mya), in the same set of rifting events that have opened the Gulf of Aden to its north west. The long geological isolation of the archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create an unique and spectacular endemic flora that would be highly vulnerable to change. Botanists rank the flora of Socotra ranks among the top ten endangered islands in the world.
Age-old refuge of the world strangest plants, on the 850 plants species listed on Socotra, nearly a third are unique. Many of these endemic species are the remains of old floras which have disappeared on the African continent, a long time ago. Due to this singular vegetation, the island of Socotra is the tenth richest island in the world with regard to the endemic plants species, according to the World Conservation Center.
The archipelago is a site of global importance for biodiversity conservation and a possible center for ecotourism. Even the language, Soqotri, is spoken only there. 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 farflung biogeographic regions: the western Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, Arabia, East Africa and the wider Indo-Pacific.
While the people help make Socotra a haven in a hostile world, the island is also a natural wonderland. From the aqua lagoon at Qalansiya to the snow-white dunes at Ras Momi, from the alpine meadows of the Haggier Mountains to the desolation of Nowgad, Socotra is a land of surprising contrasts. Rising to over 1700 meters, the Haggier Mountains loom over Hadibo, Socotra's administrative capital. The red granite of the peaks has been stained a ghostly gray by the lichens, which grow thickly above tree line. Perennial streams radiate from the misty heights, green ribbons of life teaming with endemic fish and freshwater crabs. Limestone plateaus fan east and west, providing alkaline soils for the iconic Dragon's Blood Tree. Bottle trees grow in such profusion that entire hillsides turn pink following winter rains. Cucumber trees, statuesque relative of the melon, provide fodder for starving animals during times of drought.
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