Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle – Monday, Dec. 15,2008, Science section A15 complains in its headline, “Recession hits World Seed Bank: Donations drop amid worries over global financial crisis.” by Gregory Katz AP. (A similar story is at treehugger.) Reading down a bit we find they were originally funded in the year 2000 with $110 million from the British national lottery and that they have a current operating expense of $15 million. It apparently costs them $3,000 to clean, catalog and store every new seed specimen that they put into their minus 5 degrees cold storage vault. They intend to store one quarter of the world’s seed species by the year 2020 and eventually all of them. They presently have 25,000 species and 1.5 billion seeds.

This Millennium Seed Bank is a noble effort and must be applauded and funded by every means possible. It is a top down tightly controlled collection of seeds in a scientific setting. Whereas the EarthArk is intended to be a bottom up collection from individuals in the public. The EarthArk is designed and intended to be totally scalable and largely uncontrolled—like Wikipedia. Individual people simply collect local seeds, soil and other potentially valuable stuff, label the package with its source location and send it to the Antarctic seed bank address by public mail. The total cost is the effort of finding interesting things and mailing them. It can be a school project all over the world. Because the site chosen for the EarthArk is near the South Pole and its sub-surface temperature is minus 48° C year around it will never thaw out. Another advantage: no matter how bad things get back here in the temperate zone the EarthArk packages are isolated. Being so very remote they will not be pilfered or vandalized either by man or animal. The lack of isolation may become a very serious problem at some time when people really need those seeds for immediate food.

The 1000 or so seed banks in the world could be anything, I haven’t seen a list of url sites where I could go and check out what these seed banks have and are intending to do with their seeds. A short list of sites:

  1. Wikipedia – Seedbank
  2. Wikipedia – Soil seed bank
  3. How Seed Banks Work
  4. Los Angeles Times Oct 12, 2007
  5. Associated Press this is the source article by Katz
  6. National Public Radio seed bank article