Via Wired, Dornith Doherty’s photographs offer a glimpse inside several of humanity’s vital seed-saving facilities, where samples of our planet’s flora are stored and protected in case of future mass extinction (be it due to climate change, nuclear war, astroid impact, or disease epidemic). Perhaps most stark is the Svalbard “Doomsday” Seed Vault, located on an island near the North Pole. One of these tiny outposts could someday be the savior of life on Earth:
Dornith Doherty’s documentary images of seed-saving facilities capture the logistics — and existential anxiety — behind the elaborate steps now in place to preserve the world’s crop diversity.
Once a traditional, year-to year practice by smallholding farmers to develop sturdy varietals, this simple act of putting seed aside has more and more become the concern of international affairs and corporate policy.
“Seed saving and its role in preserving biodiversity is of utmost importance. We are in an era called the Holocene extinction, which is notable for its decline in biodiversity,” says Doherty.
In times of accelerating climate change, extinction threats and the commodification of genetic resources by agribusiness, Doherty is fascinated by the sealed, and concealed, activities of seed-saving operations across the globe.
Global efforts to preserve seed stock for an uncertain future are no more evident than at the Svalbard “Doomsday” Seed Vault, which Doherty visited and photographed in March 2010. Located 800 miles south of the North Pole, on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, the Svalbard Seed Vault is the world’s insurance policy against botanical holocaust. The $9 million facility houses over 10,000 seed samples and was likened to a Bond villain’s lair when it began operation in January 2008.
Not only is the vault impervious to temperature fluctuations and sea-level rises, it can withstand a terrorist attack. “The door is not on axis with the tunnel, there is a small curved wall in line with the tunnel engineered to disperse a blast radius,” says Doherty.
For Doherty, the Svalbard Seed Vault embodies the contradiction of hope and pessimism inherent to seed-saving activities.
“On the one hand, volunteers and governments from around the world are collaborating to create a global botanical back-up system,” says Doherty, “But on the other hand, the gravity of climate change and political instability creates the need for an inaccessible ark.”