By: Shifa Nathani
Is it too late to save Socotra? - The loss of biodiversity in Socotra
Where is Socotra?
Socotra is an island belonging to the Republic of Yemen in the Indian Ocean that is de facto under the authority of the separatist Southern Transitional Council, which is supported by the UAE and is a combatant in the current civil war in Yemen. The biggest of the four islands in the Socotra archipelago, Socotra is situated close to critical maritime lanes between the Guardafui Channel and the Arabian Sea. The archipelago has served as the Socotra Governorate since 2013.
What Makes Socotra's Biodiversity Unique?
This rare "living museum" of botanical and zoological riches has numerous distinctive indigenous floras and faunas, including some plant kinds that are more than 20 million years old. It is located at the intersection of three biogeographical zones (Saraf, 2021). Because of its extraordinarily diverse and rich flora and fauna, Socotra is crucial for the preservation of biodiversity on a worldwide scale. 90% of the reptile species, 37% of the plant species, and 95% of the land snail species on Socotra are all unique to that region. As one of the most diverse and unique islands in the world, Socotra has been dubbed the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean" and is of special significance to the biodiversity hotspot in the Horn of Africa (Centre, n.d.).
Socotra is most widely known for its dragon blood trees - Dracaena cinnabari. The crown of the dragon blood tree is "upturned, tightly packed, and has the shape of an uprightly held umbrella," giving it a peculiar and unusual look. The term "dragon's blood" refers to the dark crimson resin that provides this evergreen with shrub its name. Its fruits are tiny, juicy berries with one to four seeds each. As they mature, they change from green to black, and when ripe, they turn orange. Birds consume the berries, spreading them across the environment. The seeds typically weigh 68 mg and have a diameter of 4-5 mm. A dark crimson resin known as dragon's blood is released from the berries. These trees are unique to the archipelago and are not found elsewhere on Earth.
What is Happening to Socotra?
The archipelago has seen several upsetting changes and lost much of its isolation in recent decades. Tourists have been drawn in and a tiny eco-tourism sector has been launched thanks to an airport built in 1999. Furthermore, the red palm weevil is an invasive species that has just arrived. This voracious bug, which is said to have been brought in from Yemen, is jeopardising the local date palm industry. The sensitive ecosystems of the islands are also starting to shift as a result of climate change (Hess, 2022).
According to Peter Shadie, senior advisor on world heritage at the IUCN, the landscapes of the islands are particularly fragile. Uncontrolled growth, unsustainable resource usage, climate change, plastic pollution, and a lack of effective biosecurity measures to prevent the entry of exotic alien species have all been recognised as threats to Socotra in recent years.
Recent droughts have made it difficult for islanders to sustain small-scale agricultural operations like home gardens and have decreased their access to fresh water, which has compounded the loss of dragon blood trees. Unprecedented cyclones have recently hit the islands as a result of extreme weather connected to climate change. Strong winds have damaged some trees and uprooted others, which has caused bark beetle infestations to follow. Since tiny island ecosystems are particularly prone to such changes, Van Damme warns that the consequences of alien species, climate change, unsustainable resource usage, and habitat loss might quickly result in extinction (Hess, 2022).
The development of an archipelago-wide management system, together with meticulous, ongoing monitoring and conservation activities that incorporate Socotra people in ways that boost local economy, are long-term solutions that address increasing concerns and encourage the sustainable use of natural resources. We should also pay attention to their environmental concerns. We could soon be out of time to preserve the unique species of Socotra and the biota that goes with them.
Socotra is one of the most diverse and unique islands in the world. It has been dubbed the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean". Socotra's dragon blood trees are unique to the archipelago and not found elsewhere on Earth. The crown of the dragon blood tree has the shape of an uprightly held umbrella. The red palm weevil is threatening the local date palm industry with its voracious appetite. Uncontrolled growth, unsustainable resource usage, climate change and a lack of effective biosecurity measures could quickly lead to extinction.