National Geographic : 2012 Jun
carry a gun and jambiya (ceremonial dagger) as a matter of course, Socotrans have a tradition of resolving issues peacefully in meetings among neighboring villages. Resource conservation was the only option for survival in the harsh island environment, and it had the side e ect of protect- ing Socotra's outstanding biodiversity. Van Damme has looked carefully at the ef- fects of development on other islands, and what he's seen worries him. "You have habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, loss of biodiversity," he says. "Eighty-six percent of all reptile extinctions have occurred on islands. Look what's happened to Guam, Easter Island, and even New Zealand." Threats to Socotra's environment abound on both the macro and micro scales, though many have been at least temporarily averted by security issues. One beautiful beach was set to become a major new port, despite no one being able to say why the facility was needed. (When I visited, a sign announcing the development had been torn down by residents protesting the loss of their traditional shing and recreation site.) Rumors in co ee shops ranged from the seemingly well founded (a politically connected Yemeni had bought land adjoining an important marine reserve for a resort hotel) to the sketchy (the U.S. military would establish a base on the southwestern coast). One day Lisa Ban eld and I scrambled up to the cli s near the village of Qulansiyah, on the western end of Socotra. On the red rocks here she showed me the bizarre Dorstenia gigas, a g with a bulbous shape reminiscent of, well, nothing I can think of, and also rare myrrhs and aloes and an array of other island endemics. e Maalah cli s and adjacent plateau, Ban eld said, shelter Socotra's second highest diversity, a er the Hajhir Mountains---not just plants and in- vertebrates but also reptiles, whose endemism on the island tops 90 percent. Yet just below us, and out of sight above us, were the bulldozed curves of an unfinished of an un nished road, a project undertaken despite protests. MICHAEL MELFORD BOTH A brown booby lands on the western coast. At least ten kinds of seabirds breed on Socotra or the small islands around it, making the archipelago a regionally significant home for them.