By National Yemen
The troubling daily bloodletting in Yemen, along with the security threats across the country, is leading many Western countries to tell their citizens to cancel or change plans to visit the charming Yemeni island of Socotra, home of the rare Dragonblood Tree and countless breathtaking landscapes.
Socotra Island sits in the Indian Ocean two hundred kilometers from the African coast. The island is part of an archipelago consisting of four islands. Socotra is surrounded by stunning beaches and sparling waters filled with fish and dolphins. The island itself is covered with rare trees and medicinal plants. The gorgeous Socotra sunset attracts tourists from all over the world, and the island won a UNESCO prize in 2008 for being one of the strangest islands on earth.
According to the American website (travpr), Socotrans are expecting a group of American travelers and adventurers known as “Secret Compass” int eh coming days in an attempt to promote the island. Oboth Xavier, assistant to the team leader, said that there has been a warning against visiting Socotra due to the terrorist threats in Yemen and the abundance of pirates in the oceans around the island.
He added that the Secret Compass team hoped to change Socotra’s image abroad. Although they acknowledge security concerns, they hope to show that Socotra is a safe place for visitors. “We hope that our journey will encourage others to visit the island and encourage its economy, especially after UNESCO designated the island as a nature reserve.”
In fact, the island is currently suffering from severe neglect by the Yemeni government, especially regarding its unique biodiversity. Many Socotrans have demanded that the National Dialogue Conference appoint a special administrative component for Socotra focusing on its environmental uniqueness and key strategic position. This administrative component would be able to propose laws designed to protect the islands valuable biodiversity.
Mohammed al-Eraqbi, a specialist at the Marine Research Unit in the island’s Environment Office, told an Anatolia rporter that there had been no communication between the Yemeni government and UNESCO since 2008, but that eight months ago a team from the World Organization had visited the island to evaluate changes in Socotra’s biodiversity.
One of the most prominent of their observations read, “Theft of land occurs randomly and without regard to their environmental impact especially in areas of wetlands and public parks, despite the presence of a government plan to regulate protection and the division of the island into parks protected areas, and areas for public use.”
Earlier, local authorities on the island paved several main roads on the coastal strip despite urging from European organizations to move roads away from coastal areas to protect regions of heavy sea turtle activity. The UNESCO team emphasized the importance of accounting for environmental consequences of development. The team encouraged development be kept away from environmental protectorates and beaches.
Al-Eraqbi added, “when we talk about the biodiversity on Socotra island, we are talking about 37% of Socotra’s 825 plant species, 90% of its reptiles, and 95% of its wild snails, all of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.”
Trees and plants on Socotra have been ascribed legendary stories. Dracaena cinnabari, or the Dragonblood Tree in local dialect, is one of the rarest plants found on Socotra. It lives high in Socotra’s mountains, growing to heights of 6-9 meters. When people on the island cut into its trunk, a red, sticky residue emerges, which is collected, dried, and prepared as a treatment for a number of diseases.
Moreover, despite huge number of the insects, spiders and reptiles on the island, Socotra is completely devoid of any poisonous insect or predator. Abdel Hamid al-Socotrai, one of the island’s inhabitants, described his island to the Anatolia reporter by saying, “everything on Socotra island is peaceful. People, insects, reptiles … the sheep sleep in the in the mountains and valleys in complete safety, and foreign tourists can just as safely sleep on any mountain.”
On the island, there is an area called Dlishh, roughly half an hour removed from the center of the island. A number of tourist parks have been established there, one of which offers visitors fresh seafood and the opportunity to sip tea near the colorful waves. Wooden huts have also been built for a covered bivouac by the water.
One of the workers in that park commented, “Our park welcomes ministers, officials and foreign tourists who want the experience of staying in a natural hotel. Foreign visitors do not prefer typical hotels, but would rather sleep on the coast or in the mountains. Here they can do that in complete safety.”
The inhabitants of Socotra Island speak a different language than standard Yemeni Arabic. Though it remains understandable to Yemeni visitors, it isn’t taught in any school. Some Socotrans have begun to fear the language’s extinction. According to Al-Eraqbi, some words have begun to disappear or overlap with the standard Arabic language. “The government, especially the Ministry of Culture, should make an effort to protect this language by writing it down and integrating it into the academic curriculum of Socotra’s schools. These are necessary steps to preserve the unique heritage of Socotra and Yemen in general.”
Many foreign researchers have been attracted by the magic of Socotra, including Miranda Morris, a Scottish researcher at the University of Saint & Rose. She self-professedly fell in love with the island from her first visit in 1988. She now speaks the Socotran language fluently, and she has written many books about the island. She also helps with environmental projects on the island.
Recently, newly married Yemeni couples have begun taking their honeymoons on Socotra to enjoy its warm weather and quiet beaches. Despite a lack of tourist services on the island—and its scant four hotels—the charms of the island are enough to entice visitors from both Yemen and across the planet.