But as the fighting intensified, they were forced to leave behind their gene bank, one of the world’s most valuable collections of seeds, containing some of the oldest varieties of wheat and barley. ICARDA re-established its headquarters in Morocco and Lebanon, and restarted the gene bank in 2015 using seeds from the Svalbard vault—the first-ever withdrawal there. Woken from their icy slumber, the seeds were planted in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and in Morocco, and their offspring were carefully collected and processed to return to the vault. In late February, ICARDA returned the varieties of seeds it had taken out. “These seeds have come full circle,” Lainoff explains.
At the end of one of the long rows of seeds inside the vault, a large and symbolic gap has only just been refilled. The black boxes there look like all the others in the vault, but they have had a long journey. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) is a global agricultural-research organization that had been based in Syria but was forced to flee its headquarters, just outside of Aleppo, because of the civil war. The organization evacuated its international staff in 2012, but some Syrian researchers stayed behind to rescue equipment and even animals.
In an age of heightened geopolitical tensions and uncertainty, the Svalbard vault is an unusual and hopeful exercise in international cooperation for the good of humankind. Any organization or country can send seeds to it, and there are no restrictions because of politics or the requirements of diplomacy. Red wooden boxes from North Korea sit alongside black boxes from the U.S. Over on the next aisle, boxes of seeds from Ukraine sit atop seeds from Russia. “The seeds don’t care that there are North Korean seeds and South Korean seeds in the same aisle,” Lainoff says. “They are cold and safe up there, and that’s all that really matters.”
Its only neighbor is a similar repository buried away from the dangers of the world: the Arctic World Archive, which aims to preserve data for the world’s governments and private institutions, opened deep in a nearby mine on March 27.
You don’t need to look far to discover the sacrifices made to keep these kernels of reproduction safe. One of the most historically significant deposits of seeds inside the vault comes from a collection in St. Petersburg’s Vavilov Research Institute, which originates from one of the first collections in the world. During the siege of Leningrad, about a dozen scientists barricaded themselves in the room containing the seeds in order to protect them from hungry citizens and the surrounding German army.
On this occasion, samples from India, Pakistan and Mexico were being deposited alongside seeds from Syria, many of whose citizens are living through their own apocalypse. “There are big and small doomsdays going on around the world every day. Genetic material is being lost all over the globe,” says Marie Haga, executive director of the Crop Trust. This past winter offered the gene bank a chance to redress the balance.
The entrance leads to a small tunnel-like room filled with the loud whirring noise of electricity and cooling systems required to keep the temperature within the vault consistent. Through one door is a wide concrete tunnel illuminated by strip lighting leading 430 ft. down into the mountain. At the end of this corridor is a chamber, an added layer of security to protect the vaults containing the seeds.
Sow the seeds as you remove them from the pod.
Never keep the pods more than one week, otherwise the germ may die.
If the germ is dead, the plant will not grow.
If you have sown your seeds in baskets, place the baskets in holes dug in the plantation.
There is no need to remove the basket, as it will rot in the earth.
Young cocoa tree seedlings are very delicate;
you must protect them from the sun.
Put them in the shade.
Throw away diseased seedlings and badly grown seedlings.
Use only the healthiest seedlings.
When the seedlings are lifted from the nursery bed, the roots may break and little earth remains around the roots.
To avoid this, water the beds before lifting the seedlings.
Sometimes the young seedlings do not grow well and do not gain much height.
Some of them die.
For the second PoC study which was conducted during November 2015 at Porthdinllaen, smaller bags of seeds (13 × 7.5 cm with 1 mm holes in the fabric) were deployed. Ten bags were placed on the bare intertidal sediment at Porthdinllaen but weren't secured (see Figure 1A). These were patches of bare sediment within the local seagrass meadow. The bags used in the second PoC study were a much thicker weave hessian than within the Helford PoC pilot and the hessian had a silicon coating. Approximately 100 seeds were placed into each bag together with 100 cm 3 of local sediment.
Unsworth, R. K. F., Williams, B., Jones, B. L., and Cullen-Unsworth, L. C. (2017b). Rocking the boat: damage to eelgrass by swinging boat moorings. Front. Plant Sci. 8:1309. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2017.01309
Two pilot Proof of Concept (PoC) studies on seagrass “seed bag” use were conducted, one at Porthdinllaen in North Wales and the other in the Helford River, Cornwall (Figure 4). These PoC studies trialed the use of differing types of seed bags under various deployment methods. Based on the findings from these initial PoC studies a seagrass seed bag experiment was then conducted at a further three sites around Wales. The locations for this experiment were based on the use of a simple habitat suitability model to confirm their potential viability for seagrass growth (Brown, 2015). In addition, the three sites were inspected in May 2017 using dropdown video and hand grabs to confirm suitability of the sediment. These sites were Dale and Longoar in the Milford Haven Waterway, and Freshwater East on the Pembrokeshire Coast. Dale was known to have an unconfirmed record of seagrass (Kay, 1998), and Freshwater East is suspected to have a small patch due to fragments commonly washing up on its beach. Longoar Bay has a small meadow of seagrass, with areas surrounding it likely to be good potential seagrass habitat (similar exposure, depth, and sediment). The sites were all in the range of 1–3 m depth (below low water spring) with a maximum tidal range of 7.68 m. Sediment type varied from fine and very fine sand at Dale and Longoar, to course sand at Freshwater East and all sites are fully marine (Carey et al., 2015). Sea surface temperatures typically range from 8 to 17 degrees C. During this project we confirmed the location of a small patch of seagrass (Zostera marina) previously recorded in 1958 by Martin George (Kay, 1998) in Dale (51.704765°N, 5.159228°W). This patch was found to still have dense shoots and cover an area of ~5 m 2 . At these three locations a series of trials were conducted using seed bags to plant the seagrass Zostera marina.
In conclusion we present evidence of the effectiveness of a new seagrass seed planting method referred to as BOSSline. Our experiments show this method to be simple to conduct, and proven to result in successful germination. However, our low germination rates indicate further experimental studies are required to maximize method efficiency and determine factors influencing germination in these bags. An important benefit of this method is its capacity to be upscaled with ease to the meadow creation scale. In the US, large scale mechanized seed collection has enabled the harvesting of 10's of millions of seeds at a time for restoration. In order to potentially facilitate such large-scale restoration in the UK we present a method that could be used to plant such large seed quantities in conditions where tidal currents and adverse seasonal weather conditions necessitate ensuring seeds are not rapidly washed away from the restoration site.
Jones, B. L., Cullen-Unsworth, L. C., and Unsworth, R. K. F. (2018). Tracking nitrogen source using δ15N reveals human and agricultural drivers of seagrass degradation across the British Isles. Front. Plant Sci. 9:133. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2018.00133