Socotra Archipelago

(c) UNESCO/Linda Shen

The Socotra Archipelago covers an isolated group of islands and coastal areas that are known for their plant biodiversity. They are located at a 'cross-roads' of the Arabian Sea, Red Sea an Indian Ocean.

The archipelago is 250km long. It consists of the main island of Socotra and the three smaller islands of Samha, Darsa and Abd al-Kuri. Its origins are not volcanic, but continental: it lies on a block that got separated from the African mainland some 36 million years ago. The area used to be part of the Gondwana supercontinent.

Its long isolation has led to the preservation of an ecosystem that has disappeared elsewhere. Combined with its climate, characterized by fierce heat and drought and a short monsoon season, Socotra has survived as a pristine, unique and spectacular endemic environment. The smaller islands in the archipelago even have their own endemism.

The islands are generally sparsely vegetated. The land is covered with granite mountain ranges, limestone plateaus and coastal and interior plains. There are a number of cave systems. The high plant diversity and level of endemism is particularly visible on Jabal Haggeher. Unique en medicinal plants are found such as the bitter aloe, myrrh, frankincense and the distinctive dragon's blood tree (relict elsewhere).

Due to its dry climate and small size, fauna is fairly limited except for reptiles and birds. Socotra has been identificatied as a separate Endemic Bird Area by BirdLife International, with 22 Important Bird Areas. Its marine zone holds a highly diverse fauna and flora, ranging from reef-building coral a resident population of Humpback Whales.


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Site Info

Full name: Socotra Archipelago

Site History


The site has 18 locations. Show all

  • Abd Alkuri Hadramawt,
  • Abd Alkuri Hadramawt,
  • Abd Alkuri Hadramawt,
  • Abd Alkuri Hadramawt,
  • Darsa Hadramawt,
  • Kalfarun Hadramawt,
  • Sabunya Hadramawt,
  • Samha Hadramawt,
  • Socotra A Hadramawt,
  • Socotra A Hadramawt,
  • Socotra A Hadramawt,
  • Socotra A Hadramawt,
  • Socotra A Hadramawt,
  • Socotra A Hadramawt,
  • Socotra A Hadramawt,
  • Socotra A Hadramawt,
  • Socotra A Hadramawt,
  • Socotra A Hadramawt,


The site has 26 connections.


  • Destroyed by Hurricanes or Typhoons Cyclone Megh (Nov 2015): "... number of homes have been destroyed and 5,000 more displaced people have fled the northern shores of the island to schools, universities and hospitals"


  • Coral "Marine life is very diverse and includes 283 species of coral" (AB ev)
  • Critically endangered fauna species Hawksbill sea turtle
  • Endemic Bird Species Socotra Starling, Socotra Sunbird, Socotra Sparrow and Socotra Grosbeak
  • Granite rock formations Abd al-Kuri: "the principal mountain range, which consists of granite capped by a layer of limestone" (nom file)
  • Lagoons Several - Nom file mentions inter alia Qalansiya, Suq and Diduah Lagoons and the former is an important bird watching location
  • Mangroves One of "eight main types of vegetation" (AB ev)
  • Notable examples of island gigantism Dendrosicyos Socotranus, the Cucumber Tree
  • Notable Trees dragon's blood tree
  • Turtles and tortoises "Socotra hosts four species of endangered marine turtles - the Loggerhead turtle, the Green turtle, the Hawksbill turtle and the rarer Olive Ridley turtle. Loggerhead and Green turtles nest on various beaches around the islands. No nesting has yet been confirmed for Hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles." (nom file)
  • Whales "various species of baleen and toothed whales" (nom file)



Human Activity

  • Incense Route Socotra had become ?of major importance as a staging-post in the incense trade? by the middle of the first millennium BCE

Individual People

  • Alfonso de Albuquerque  Captured it (in a joint action with Tristao da Cunha) in 1507
  • Da Cunha Family Tristan da Cunha captured it in 1507
  • Marco Polo Later, on the 13th century, the great Venetian seafarer, Marco Polo, reported: "The inhabitants are baptized Christians and have an archbishop. ... It should explain that the archbishop of Socotra has nothing to do with the pope of Rome, but is subject to an archbishop who lives in Baghdad. ... You should know also that, if the archbishop of Socotra dies, his successor must be sent from Baghdad, otherwise there could never be an archbishop here." (nom file)


  • Miocene "..comprises an..igneous basement from the Pre-Cambrian Era and a complex of early Palaeozoic rocks which are overlain by a mantle of limestones ...from the Cretaceous and Eocene Age..... The continental promontory on which Socotra is located separated from Africa some 36mya at the same time as the rifting which created the Gulf of Aden" (Nom File)


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