Socotra or Soqotra (Arabic سقطرى ; Suquṭra) is a small archipelago of four islands and islets in the Indian Ocean off the coast of the Horn of Africa some 190 nautical miles (220 mi/350 km) south of the Arabian peninsula, belonging to the Republic of Yemen. It has long been a part of the ‘Adan Governorate, but in 2004 became attached to the Hadhramaut Governorate, which is much closer to the island than ‘Adan (although the closest governorate would be Al Mahrah).
Socotra is considered the “jewel” of biodiversity in the Arabian sea. The long geological isolation of the Socotra archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create a unique and spectacular endemic flora (which may, therefore, be vulnerable to introduced species such as goats and to climate change). Surveys have revealed that more than a third of the 800 or so plant species of Socotra are found nowhere else. Botanists rank the flora of Socotra among the ten most endangered island flora in the world. The archipelago is a site of global importance for biodiversity conservation and a possible center for ecotourism.
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 the dragon’s blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and a dye. Another unusual plant is Dorstenia gigas.
The island group also has a fairly rich bird fauna, including a few types of endemic birds, such as the Socotra Starling Onychognathus frater, the Socotra Sunbird Nectarinia balfouri, Socotra Sparrow Passer insularis and Socotra Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus socotranus.
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.