Seeds from the critically endangered Bermuda bean are being deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault located halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, with the Vault described as a “fail-safe seed storage facility,” built to stand the “challenge of natural or man-made disasters.”
Called the “ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply,” the Vault holds more than 930,000 samples, originating from almost every country in the world.
The Vault is in an ideal location for long-term seed storage, as the arctic permafrost offers the Vault natural freezing, providing what they said is a “cost effective and fail-safe method to conserve seeds.”
While the entrance may be visible, the Vault itself is over 100 meters into the mountain.
The Vault is run by the Crop Trust, who said, “Seeds of a nearly extinct wild bean, which has evolved a vigorous root system that makes it more resilient to tropical storms, are being deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
“On World Food Day 2017, the Crop Trust is supporting a major deposit of 4,335 samples of crop diversity to Svalbard, including the wind-resilient Bermuda bean.
“The seed samples being deposited come from two CGIAR genebanks supported by the Crop Trust, located in Colombia, and Peru, as well as the genebank for the Nordic region. The deposit includes varieties of wheat, barley, beans, potato, millet, sorghum and more.
“The Bermuda bean is just one of the many species and varieties of crops being conserved this week in the Seed Vault, which lies in the permafrost on an island in the Norwegian Arctic.
“Surveys suggest that only 29 plants of the endemic Bermuda bean remain in the wild on the island, prompting it to be added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] Red List of Threatened Species.
“Fortunately, seeds were originally collected by the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Botanical Gardens and its partners. Former International Centre for Tropical Agriculture [CIAT] Genebank Manager, Daniel Debouck, and his team requested 15 seeds and successfully multiplied those to over 6,000. The species, and its adaptations, evolved during millennia of isolation, is probably now safe from extinction.
“The increasing occurrence of extreme weather events, with the number of natural disasters quadrupling globally since 1970 to around 400 a year, are challenging our existing agricultural crops.
“Solutions to these and future, yet unknown, challenges could reside in the genetic material of seeds like the Bermuda bean, and the many others conserved by CIAT in Colombia. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault adds another level of security to the protection of this biodiversity.
“Our mission at the Crop Trust is to safeguard crop diversity, forever,” says Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Crop Trust. “This deposit of seeds like the wind-resistant Bermuda bean is one step towards fulfilling this mission.”
“Sending seeds like the Bermuda bean to the Svalbard Gobal Seed Vault is like uploading your files to the cloud,” says Luis Guillermo Santos Meléndez, Seed Conservation and Viability Lab Coordinator at CIAT.
“It gives us peace of mind that even if disaster strikes here, the robust genetic base of beans and tropical forages can be recovered.”
According to a Bermuda Environment Department fact sheet [PDF], the Wild Bermuda Bean is a rare endemic vine in the pea family which is unique to Bermuda.
“Wild Bermuda Bean is so rare it has been listed as Critcally Endangered under both the Protected Species Act and the international IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,” the Department notes.
“Bermuda Bean is only found at about 6 locations on the island, with only a few plants in each place. This fragmented distribution, low population density and the disruption of its habitat [by development and invasive species] mean that Bermuda Bean faces extinction without active conservation.”