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Socotra Damage

Socotra Damage

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Sunday, November 8, 2015/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, sustainability, environment, plants

                       Socotra Island 1-7-2007, Yemen (credit: NASA-Landsat)

The remote island of Socotra was just hit by a second cyclone in the Arabian Sea in only one week. Riled Up commented on Cyclone Chapala and Socotra as the storm began tearing across the island of 50,000 inhabitants before it hit the coasts of Yemen and Oman. Now Cyclone Megh did likewise by slamming into the island as a Category 3 0r 4 storm. Cyclones are very rare in this part of the Arabian Sea so dual storms of this magnitude are unknown in recorded history.

                                 Cyclone Megh approaches Socotra (left), 11-6-2015  (credit: NASA)

A representative of Socotra'a environmental office told the news agency Reuters that Megh was "several times worse than Chapala because it passed directly over the island". The extent of the damage is still being assessed due to Socotra's remoteness and the difficulty of access to the island, a province of Yemen.

Socotra, a province of Yemen, has been called "the other Galapagos" because of its rare and plants and birds that evolved there in complete isolation over millions of years. It was known as as the Island of the Dragon's Blood to the Greeks and the Romans for a deep-red pigment gathered to paint furniture, lacquer boxes, and temple decorations. The pigment was obtained from the tree that grew only on Socotra. The etherial beauty of the island's plants was captured by the photographer Beth Moon in her recent book, Portraits of Time.

   Dragon Trees Dawn Dracaena cinnabari                    Desert Rose, Adenium socotrana  (credits: Beth Moon)
The extent of the damage to the Socotra's infrastructure and unique ecology is still being assessed. The island's remoteness and limited access compounds that task. Cyclone Megh was predicted to cross the island with winds approaching 100mph. Several photographs were transmitted by the Socotra Environment Office after the cyclone passed and the show numerous dragon trees toppled like twigs.

                        Toppled Dragon Trees, Socotra 11-7-2015  (credit: Socotra Environment Office)

The houses in island's one town can eventually be rebuilt but what about their ancient trees and other rare species? The dragon trees are actually a tree-size member of the asparagus family and has shallow roots. If materials, labor, and will were available, considering all the other storm damage issues, techniques from arboriculture could help if acted upon quickly. Structural supports like "props" are commonly used to stabilize and re-establish trees that have been transplanted or damaged by wind storms. They don't require expensive materials but require enough strength to hold the damaged tree stable while it re-establishes new roots.

 Tree Transplanting Supports and Damage Recovery Props (credit: Penn State and Florida State University)

The people of Socotra had been attempting to develop a small ecotourism industry for visitors to their island who wanted to see the unique plants and animals that lived there. Civil war in Yemen and now dual cyclones have likely set those plans back quite awhile. Hopefully, some of the trees and the people themselves will be propped up and will recover together.


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