Socotra Wildlife at risk, said experts [Archives:2007/1096/Local News]

October 22 2007

Amel Al-Ariqi
SOCOTRA, Oct. 21) There are numerous threats to the future of Yemeni Socotra island and their wildlife, said an environmental expert yesterday.

“Road-building presents one of the greatest threats to Socotra's environment. Thoroughfares far in excess of local people's needs have already destroyed and fragmented delicate and rare habitats. Grander schemes are on the drawing board which threaten to further damage Socotra's unique and fragile ecosystems and threaten to cause the extinction of endemic wildlife.” He warned, adding that Over fishing of sharks and sea cucumbers may disrupt food chains at both ends with potentially calamitous effects on the marine biome. “Lobsters are another marine resource, the harvest of which must be strictly regulated if environmental damage is to be minimized.” Said David Stanton, who is a member in Yemen Society for the Preservation of Wildlife

On land, the illegal capture and export of falcons to the Gulf States is another potential threat. Chameleons and Socotra's rare endemic plants are additional species which have been collected for the illegal international trade even though there are laws to prevent this from happening.

Socotra is promoted as a 'safe' destination within Yemen and in season each of the twice weekly Yemenia flights to Mori airport is packed with foreign tourists who wish to enjoy the pristine adventures that Socotra offers.

“As there is little tourism infrastructure to support this growing number of visitors, the environment is beginning to suffer. Firewood, an important basis of many food chains is being depleted. Rare endemic plants with highly local distributions are being trampled. Finally, Socotra's flourishing but limited coral reefs are inadvertently damaged by well-meaning but ignorant tourists. There have even been reports of wealthy visitors from abroad obtaining permits for the importation of firearms for the purpose of hunting, and attempts at spear-fishing within the Marine Protected Area at Dhi Hamri.” Stanton confirmed

Yemen's famed island possession of Socotra has been a focus for countless generations of adventurers and traders. For eons the source of rare incenses and essences, Socotra has in recent decades also been the focus of intense scientific scrutiny. Lately touted as the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean,” this unique archipelago has received major international attention through the UN Global Environmental Fund's Socotra Biodiversity Project, an initiative that lives on through international and local funding of the Socotra Conservation and Development Program (SCDP).

The Yemen Society for the Preservation of Wildlife (YSPW), in conjunction with the SCDP and the Yemen Ornithological Society (YOS) is organizing- next Thursday- an illustrated presentation by several local and international experts on Socotra's wildlife and the threats that development poses to it.

“To discuses what is now known about the biodiversity of the archipelago while raising a red flag for the scrutiny of decision makers and concerned people alike,” said Stanton, adding “the importance of this presentation lies in the fact that this is not only the first major collaboration between a government agency and a conservation NGO, but that it is the first and so far only opportunity in Yemen for Socotri researchers to present their findings to the public.” noted Stanton

He expected that this presentation will lead to strengthening the foundation of international collaboration between Socotri and foreign scientists while informing the public about Socotra and what makes the archipelago so unique and important. “Also, this meeting should be the first of many such meetings in which the people with the greatest local knowledge and insight, the Socotris themselves, are able to share this wisdom with the public. Equally importantly, the public figures and lawmakers whom we hope will attend, may be influenced to strengthen the legislation and enact new laws to protect Yemen's precious Indian Ocean possessions.” Stanton concluded.