When conservation precedes development: a case study of the opening up of the Socotra archipelago, Yemen

Paul Scholtea1 p1 c1, Abdulraqueb Al-Okaishia1 and Ahmed Saed Suleymana2

a1 Socotra Conservation and Development Programme, Socotra, Yemen.

a2 Environmental Protection Authority, Socotra, Yemen


The Socotra archipelago, Yemen, in the north-west Indian Ocean, has outstanding endemic biodiversity, and was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008. Although inhabited for 6 millennia Socotra only began to open up to the outside world in 1990. With conservation interventions starting prior to major developments, and building on centuries-old low-intensity resource management, Socotra has been in a unique position to practice pre-emptive conservation. In 1997 modern conservation started with biodiversity and socio-economic surveys, with inputs from communities and decision makers, which fed into the Conservation Zoning Plan. Approved in 2000, this has been the archipelago’s principal conservation planning and management tool. Regulations and bans on fishing practices, the collection of coral stones and export of biological materials have all been relatively well complied with by local communities and authorities. Inappropriate road construction, however, driven by non-islanders, has demonstrated the limits of the Conservation Zoning Plan, highlighting significant institutional challenges in planning and coordination. The capacity of the Socotra-based conservation institution has increased dramatically over the last decade. Its personnel are generally respected, largely because their roles include assisting local communities with development initiatives, underlining the importance of integrating conservation and development at the onset of conservation. Although the integrity of the landscape will inevitably decline, especially along the northern coastline, Socotri conservationists, backed by international support, are in a unique position to shape the archipelago’s future.

(Received February 22 2010)

(Reviewed July 16 2010)

(Accepted October 07 2010)

(Online publication August 02 2011)


c1 Socotra Conservation and Development Programme, Socotra, Yemen. E-mail pault.scholte@gmail.com

p1 Current address: Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management, s.c. Nieuwe Teertuinen 12 C, 1013 LV Amsterdam, The Netherlands