French Scientists Spend [Archives:1997/42/Last Page]

October 20 1997

Five Weeks In/Around Socotra: The Enchanted Island: Socotra Reveals Its Secrets
The long history of Socotra begins in the mists of mythology. The origin of the name of the island remains highly mysterious and controversial. Today’s linguists think that it most likely comes from the Sanskrit name “Dripa Sukhadara,” meaning “Island of Blessing,” which was also the origin of the name by which the island was known in ancient times: Discorida. The Pharaohs of the 13th Dynasty BC sent expeditions to Socotra via a direct sea route to obtain incense and myrrh. The Greek colonizers under Alexander were the first sailors and merchants to use the resources of the island on a regular basis. For a long time, the island belonged to the domain of Mahri Sultan of Qishn and Socotra. Islamic law as well as tribal laws were applied. The sultan’s revenues were generated in the form of taxes on imports and exports, plus one tenth of the local production devoted to trade. After independence from the British in 1967, and since the reunification of the two Yemens, Socotra has been part of the Governorate of Aden. Today, the Republic of Yemen is considering administering Socotra directly by an office affiliated to the Prime Minister in order to give it the priority it deserves.
Geography & People
In 1880, the Englishman Lord Bayley Balfour led the last major scientific mission to take place in the Socotra Archipelago. This area of Yemen remains today a little-known enclave in the Indian Ocean, with everything waiting to be discovered. Protected by the sea, Socotra is tucked away at the border between the Orient and Africa. Covering 3,580 sq. km, this strip of land in the middle of the Indian Ocean marks the entrance to the Gulf of Aden. It also marks the eastern end of a coral reef which stretches out from Cape Guardafui, at the very tip of the African Continent.
Located 250 km east of the Horn of Africa and 400 km south of the Arabian Peninsula, Socotra is inaccessible for at least 4 months of the year because the monsoon winds make navigation or access by air impossible. The islanders must live out this period on self-sufficiency. Relations between the natives and the rest of the world are thus heavily dependent on the sea and the wind. The main activity of the Socotrans is fishing and the harvesting of incense, myrrh, and aloe leaves, products which made the Socotra Archipelago a vital maritime crossroads. The traditions of the Socotran natives differ from those of other Yemenis in that they are influenced by all three of the nearby major regions: the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa and India. The Socotran people have their own native language, which is a hold-over from the ancient Himyaritic language. They share this language, or variations of it with the people of Al-Mahara in Yemen and Dhofar in Oman. While the Socotrans have their own language, they also speak Arabic. Because of its insular location, Socotra is home to a great many species belonging to fundamentally different types of flora and fauna, all of which have evolved independently due to their geographic location. Consequently, Socotra is of particular value and interest from a geo-botanical point of view.
Scientific Discoveries
Starting from today, October 20th till November 24th, over 20 scientists will carry out a research program on the Socotra Archipelago. It will be the first campaign organized in that part of the Indian Ocean in more than a century, since the British expedition of 1880. Biologists, biochemists, algologists, achthylogists, ethno-logists, botanists, ornithologists, etc, will meet on the other side of the world to coordinate and share their topics of study and research. The expedition will include an evaluation of the marine heritage and the potential for documenting the natural resources of the island.

Since 1991, the Auraca Mission, organized by the Ardoukoba Association and Daniel Jouvance Marine Biology Laboratories, has enabled teams from various backgrounds to carry out inventories of under-water flora and fauna. Over 3,000 diving operations have been completed in collaboration with researchers from the countries concerned, and considerable quantities of biological material are now being analyzed. Starting today, they have a mission to fulfill at Socotra. The Auraca Mission provides a link between research and industry. Their role is to contribute, in the future, to the development of the southern countries through a concerted transfer of biotechnologies in collaboration with researchers from the countries involved. One of the Auraca Mission’s goals is to discover in the oceans new molecules which, once synthesized, will be of value in the fields of pharmacology, the food industry or cosmetology.
In Socotra
This scientific expedition will be carried out in close cooperation with the Yemeni government, relying on the support of the Yemeni Embassy in France, various Yemeni ministries, the Marine Science and Resources Research Center in Aden and the French Embassy in Yemen. The group will also need the assistance of the Ministry of Defence, especially the Navy and Airforce. The Auraca Mission intends to take an inventory of the underwater flora and fauna, evaluate the state of the stocks, and identify areas rich in biodiversity and zones of reproduction. The researchers will also carry out a complete description of these spaces and of the fishing techniques and practices currently in use. A phyto-ecological and floristic inventory will be conducted as part of preliminary prospecting. Lastly, the Auraca Mission will also conduct a general study on the quality of the local fresh water. The scientists will samples of stagnant water, a vector of diseases such as malaria, which sorely afflicts the population of the Socotra Archipelago. ý
The Research Team
The 20 researchers come from the following organizations: * The Marine Science and Resources Research Center of Aden. * The Oceanological Center of Marseilles – Endoume Station. * National Museum of Natural History – France. * The University of Nice. * The University of Perpignan. * The Daniel Jouvance Marine Biology Laboratories.