Monday, September 13, 2010

Socotra and Thoughts of Island Paradises

"Island paradise" evokes different images for different people. For me, it's the intriguing, intertwined landscapes of the islands of Seychelles. For others it's the cascading mountains and lush greens of Hawaii. There is something romantic about the thought of being stranded on a desert island, focusing on oneself and ones survival instead of the every day hustle and bustle of modern life. Robinson Crusoe, who had well documented issues on his own island paradise said "...I looked back upon my desolate, solitary island as the most pleasant place in the world and all the happiness my heart could wish for was to be but there again." Remarkably, our wonderful world is dotted with a plethora of these "pleasant places".

Socotra is a lesser-known island paradise. Near the intersection of the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, the archipelago offers a host of endemic species. Socotra offers an ecosystem arguably more unique than the Galapagos due to it's multi-million year move away from its Gondwanaland roots.

The beautiful Yemeni archipelago has a young and budding tourism industry. Much of the areas allure is because it remains relatively untouched and unique, not an overbuilt tourist trap. However, to emerge as a legitimate and significant industry, certain amenities and investment need to occur. The government of Yemen faces the challenge of finding the delicate balance between development and preservation. Before a clear path is taken, Socotra struggles with a bit of an identity crisis. Although, with as varied a cultural history as it has, perhaps its ability to evolve while maintaining its natural wonder is the true identity of the archipelago.

Not surprisingly a debate continues as to how Yemen should administer the area. Should it remain largely a preserve or should the government promote tourism on its tropical gem? I found an editorial which argues Socotra is more beautiful than Hawaii and should be developed. I'm not so sure. I'm in the camp that believes the real draw is the relatively pristine and unique ecosystem. At the very least it's an interesting take.

And here is your image of the week, the main island of Socotra. What do you think? Should it be developed, preserved, or a little of both.


With the recent addition of daily air service from the Yemeni mainland, Socotra has what it takes to be a real player in the eco-tourism market. It's far away, beautiful, safe, accessibly and exotic.

So where is YOUR island paradise?

The basement geographer beat me to the punch on this post. He includes a lot more information on his post on Socotra and some of its native species. Be sure to check him out.


  1. Considering the immense amount of flora/fauna that occur nowhere else on Earth, I would argue for a tightly controlled amount of low-impact tourism. People deserve to see the amazing things on the island, but the island as a whole should be protected. Overgrazing is certainly an issue as the population continues to grow. Not only does it remove native vegtation, but the chances of human-introduced animals such as goats going feral and further disrupting the delicate island ecosystem is worrying.

  2. Socotra has such a rich history on the island that could be touristized (not a word but it will do) smartly. The island was a long time stronghold of Nestorian Christianity so there are church ruins all over the island. Also, being a mixing bowl of Africa and Arabia has led to a unique culture.

  3. Hawaii is only lush and green on the windward side of the islands. It is a desert on the leeward. So you can have both there =)

  4. I also heard that this is where the pirates bury their oil tankers and/or treasure.

  5. Now THERE is an idea for ecotourism - searching for the pirates' burried treasure.