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Socotra: the blessed island

Yemen 2020
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On the Dixam plateau, the dragon blood tree forms a shaded vault. This kind of tree is a vestige of a prehistoric flora that vanished on the African continent. It is famous for its blood-red sap, used in dyeing, in cosmetics, or as a medicinal remedy. This tree and others such as myrrh and frankincense trees have made Socotra famous since Antiquity. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
With its woven foliage in the shape of a giant parasol, the Draceana Cinnabari, also known as the dragon blood tree is impressive. It is very resistant and can live up to a thousand years. A limestone soil and low altitude are enough for it to multiply, as on the Dixam plateau, in the heart of the island. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
With its miniature baobab look, the Adenium Obesum also called Bottle Tree or Desert Rose, is another endemic plant species listed in Socotra. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
With its miniature baobab look, the Adenium Obesum also called Bottle Tree or Desert Rose, is another endemic plant species listed in Socotra. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
All over the island, like in Wadi Dirhour, stand enigmatic plants, like this Adenium Obesum which is one of the 307 endemic plant species listed on the island. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
After the dissipation of the morning mists, the Haggier mountains -the highest massif on the island culminating at an altitude of 1,580 meters-  reveal its green valleys and magnificent mountain landscapes. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Ahmed, a camel man, standing at the Daadha pass in front of the granite Haggier mountains. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Issa, a camel man, standing at the Daadha pass in front of the granite Haggier mountains. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
At first glance, Socotra gives itself the air of inhospitable land. The land there seems arid and rocky, and the dark mountains often get lost in the clouds. This is why the island has long remained, in the eyes of ancients merchants and navigators, a feared and mysterious place. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
At first glance, Socotra gives itself the air of inhospitable land. The land there seems arid and rocky, and the dark mountains often get lost in the clouds. This is why the island has long remained, in the eyes of ancients merchants and navigators, a feared and mysterious place. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
At first glance, Socotra gives itself the air of inhospitable land. The land there seems arid and rocky, and the dark mountains often get lost in the clouds. This is why the island has long remained, in the eyes of ancients merchants and navigators, a feared and mysterious place. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
The Dixam limestone plateau unfolds a magnificent panorama on the Haggier mountains. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
With its woven foliage in the shape of a giant parasol, the Draceana Cinnabari, also known as the dragon blood tree is impressive. It is very resistant and can live up to a thousand years. A limestone soil and low altitude are enough for it to multiply, as on the Dixam plateau, in the heart of the island. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
On the Dixam plateau, the dragon blood tree forms a shaded vault. This kind of tree is a vestige of a prehistoric flora that vanished on the African continent. It is famous for its blood-red sap, used in dyeing, in cosmetics, or as a medicinal remedy. This tree and others such as myrrh and frankincense trees have made Socotra famous since Antiquity. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Issa, a goat shepherd living in Dixam village. Like most Socotrans, he wears a <i>Fouta</i>, the traditional Yemeni pant, and a <i>Ghutra</i> around his head. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Mohammed, goat shepherd and teacher of the Dixam village. Like most Socotrans, he wears a <i>Fouta</i>, the traditional Yemeni pant, and a <i>Ghutra</i> around his head. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Like most Socotrans, Fissal wears a <i>Fouta</i>, the traditional Yemeni pant, and a <i>Ghutra</i> around his head. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
With its miniature baobab look, the Adenium Obesum also called Bottle Tree or Desert Rose, is another endemic plant species listed in Socotra. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
With its miniature baobab look, the Adenium Obesum also called Bottle Tree or Desert Rose, is another endemic plant species listed in Socotra. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
With its miniature baobab look, the Adenium Obesum also called Bottle Tree or Desert Rose, is another endemic plant species listed in Socotra. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
The Chamaeleo Monachus is endemic to Socotra, as are 90% of the other reptiles on the island. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
On the protected area of Homhil, in the northeast, where myrrh and frankincense trees abound as well as dragon blood trees and Adeniums, the natural swimming pool offers a magnificent view overlooking the Arabian Sea. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
On the protected area of Homhil, in the northeast, myrrh and frankincense trees abound as well as dragon blood trees and Adeniums. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
On the protected area of Homhil, in the northeast, myrrh and frankincense trees abound as well as dragon blood trees and Adeniums. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Portrait of Ali, Ahmed and Abdullah on the Homhil plateau. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Like Ahrer, the pristine beaches and the 300 km of Socotra untouched coastline is stirring up the greed of investors. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Like Ahrer, the pristine beaches and the 300 km of Socotra untouched coastline is stirring up the greed of investors. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Like Ahrer, the pristine beaches and the 300 km of Socotra untouched coastline is stirring up the greed of investors. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
In Ahrer, on the eastern coast, the beach seems to climb the black granite cliffs. This landscape is typical of Socotra, constantly whipped by the winds. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Since a road was traced about twenty years ago, the eastern and western parts of the island, once isolated, are now well connected. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
On the endless beach of Nojet, on the southern side of the island, The strong wind of the summer monsoon, coming from Africa, sculpts dunes worthy of the Sahara. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
On the endless beach of Nojet, on the southern side of the island, The strong wind of the summer monsoon, coming from Africa, sculpts dunes worthy of the Sahara. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
On the coast, like here at Qalansiyah, fishing remains the main source of income. From the early age, children learn how to sail and fish. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
On the coast, like here at Qalansiyah, fishing remains the main source of income. From the early age, children learn how to sail and fish. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
On the coast, like here at Qalansiyah, fishing remains the main source of income. From the early age, children learn how to sail and fish. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
With its strong gusts or its light breeze, the wind sculpts the landscapes of the island and dictates its law to the 60,000 inhabitants. Here, the Gulf Dove, an Omani oil tanker, was washed away on the Deleisha bay during a storm in November 2019. Since that day he has been there. Knowing that it will remain here for a long time, the locals use to say: <i>It is ours now</i>.  Socotra - Yemen - 2020
The Detwah lagoon in Qalansiyah Bay, in the far west of the island, arouse tranquility and delight. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Locals like to picnic at sunset in Qalansiyah Bay, in the far west of the island. This bay is the largest on the island. For its pristine beaches and its 300 km of untouched coastline, Socotra is stirring up the greed of Gulf investors. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Nostalgic of a time when the islanders did not live on imported products, Abdullah -whom everyone here calls <i>the Cave Man</i> as he was born in a cave overlooking the Detwah lagoon and has lived there almost all his life- is happy to shows how he survives with nature by supplying himself with fresh seafood like urchins, which he catches by hand on a daily basis. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
Abdullah -whom everyone here calls <i>the Cave Man</i> as he was born in a cave overlooking the Detwah lagoon and has lived there almost all his life- is happy to shows the fishes that inhabit the lagoon, like this balloon fish. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
The mountains are full of cavities. For centuries the caves were occupied by the Socotrans, who also used them as burial places. It is still possible to find skeletons dating from those times like here, above the Detwah lagoon. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
In contrast to the declining global population, the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron Percnopterus) can be seen throughout the island, breeding on its limestone cliffs and escarpments, and roaming everywhere, like at shoab beach, in search of food. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
In contrast to the declining global population, the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron Percnopterus) can be seen throughout the island, breeding on its limestone cliffs and escarpments, and roaming everywhere, like at shoab beach, in search of food. Socotra - Yemen - 2020
As the isolated Shuab beach reminds, Socotra has remained lonely and indifferent to the upheavals of the world for long time. But for how long yet? Socotra - Yemen - 2020
As the isolated Shuab beach reminds, Socotra has remained lonely and indifferent to the upheavals of the world for long time. But for how long yet? Socotra - Yemen - 2020

Socotra: the blessed island

Where: Socotra (Yemen)

When: 2020

This piece of Yemeni land, located in the Indian Ocean, off the Gulf of Aden, has long remained the secret of merchants and explorers. The "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean" is an exceptional place full of thousand legends, starting with the one linked to its name: the word Socotra would derive from a Sanskrit expression "dvipa sukhadhara", meaning "the blessed island".

However, at first glance, the land is arid and rocky. The dark cliffs are lost in the clouds, and Egyptian vultures are flying above strange and singular plants. Socotra gives itself a look of inhospitable land as if it wanted to keep its fabulous landscapes hidden or keep the secret of its flora and fauna from another age. This 140 by 40 kilometer piece of land, which broke away from the Horn of Africa thirty million years ago, is considered as "a precious ark of Noah", "A masterpiece work of evolution" by experts that described the archipelago in 2008 when it was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Due to its isolation, Socotra has become a treasure house of biodiversity: on the 825 plant species identified, 307 are endemic, a rarity on a global scale. The most famous gem is called "Draceana cinnabari", aka dragon blood tree.
It is the important variety of resin trees that would have pushed Bedouin tribes of South Arabia to settle on this archipelago lost in the Indian Ocean, a thousand years before our era. Some writings claim that in the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great wanted to conquer Socotra to be able to extract a local myrrh, which would heal the wounds of his soldiers.
The magical virtues of those trees have declined over the centuries, but Socotra has long remained a mysterious stopover in the eyes of merchant navigators.
In his travel stories, Marco Polo spoke with fear about the inhabitants of Socotra "Capable of blowing the wind they want and make the sea calm or make great storms...".

The wind always sculpted the landscapes of the island and dictated its law to the inhabitants. But since 2015, the archipelago has been hit by cyclones almost every year and floods are now common during the dry season. Socotra is now on the frontline of climate change, and both its inhabitants and its fragile ecosystem are facing shifting seasons.
The cyclones and the heavy rains uproot a huge amount of trees and plants, and the rock-slides have changed the landscapes invariably, particularly in the mountain.
As these extreme weather conditions have become more frequent and more damaging, plant and animal species are more at increased risk of extinction. Species conservation and rehabilitation programs have become a necessity to keep alive this "precious ark of Noah".

Also, as the island infrastructure was not prepared for such storms, many houses and buildings have been destroyed. Environmental pressure has led many people to leave their traditional homes to settle in and around Hadibou, the capital city of Socotra.
Now, the challenge looks like finding a proper way to improve living conditions for its disaster-prone population without ruining the delicate eco-balance of the island.

Another sign that times are changing, the Socotrans are expressing their growing independence desire and wonder: "To be part of Yemen or to obtain autonomy?". The idea is not new, but since the beginning of a complex civil war on the mainland involving several regional actors, the question has arisen more and more.

The military intervention lead by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) coalition contributed to the creation of various movements inside Yemen and also in Socotra.
Currently, different forces are pursuing an influence and implantation strategy on this strategic maritime crossroad that is Socotra. On one side, are the ones in favor of a united Yemen supported by Saudi Arabia. On the other side, are the partisans of a two states solution in which Socotra would be integrated into South Yemen, supported by the UAE. And finally, the supporters of a federal state solution in which Socotra would once again become a sultanate.

As the economic situation deteriorates due to the war, and because there are more and more foreign investors, the environmentalists’ camp is declining in favor of the supporters of “development at any cost “. That is why some families have already sold pieces of their land to Gulf countries’ investors.
For the moment, no construction has emerged, but with time, Socotra the blessed island could become a lost paradise.