Company makes seed bank kits for export

·3 min read

Aug. 30—A company based out of Hawaii island is making seed bank and nursery kits that can be exported to developing countries for ecosystem restoration purposes.

The designed by Terraformation, founded by former Reddit CEO Yi ­shan Wong, are essentially retrofitted shipping containers with refrigerators, dehydrators, solar panels and other equipment necessary to store seeds off-grid, while the include all the material needed to set up and operate a greenhouse.

Terraformation's goal is to help large-scale forest restoration efforts around the world by addressing a handful of obstacles as described by Jill Wagner, the company's chief forestry officer.

In an, terraformation.com, Wagner listed four bottlenecks that hinder forest restoration : training, equipment, the supply of seeds and funding. The seed banks provide necessary equipment to properly store seeds, which increases seed supply.

"One of the biggest bottlenecks ... is seed availability, " Wagner said in an interview with the Honolulu Star-­Advertiser. "People have to regionally collect seeds. There has got to be seed banks for all these places in the world for native seeds."

Wagner, who's also project coordinator for the Hawaii Island Seed Bank, said the bottlenecks apply everywhere.

"I've worked in tropical forest restoration for over two decades. ... Across our unique ecosystems and experiences, we all face similar challenges, " she wrote in her article.

A prototype of the seed banks is already being used at Hawaii Island Seed Bank. They can cost about $130, 000 to build if they have solar panels, Wagner said. Terraformation is building one for a buyer in Ecuador without solar panels that costs $70, 000.

Although the designs for both the seed banks and the nursery kits are open-source and available to the public, ordering them to be built and delivered provides an immediate option for organizations that want to start storing seeds.

"What Terraformation is doing is this whole turnkey solution that includes a building and solutions for more than one storage behavior type, " said Dustin Wolkis, seed bank and laboratory manager for the National Tropical Botanical Garden, located on Kauai. "I think the stuff that Terraformation is doing is totally innovative."

The seed bank design is a brainchild of Wagner's, who last year had a shipping container on her Big Island property converted to a cabin and thought to apply the idea to forest restoration.

"I bought some property in Kona ... and when I bought that property, I had a 40-foot shipping container, and my carpenter built me a little cabin, " she said. "I was living in the container ... and I had the idea that I could create a seed bank out of a shipping container."

There's already interest in the seed banks, and Terraformation has received 10 orders for them so far. They'll be sent to buyers on Maui and in Oregon, Uganda, Kenya, Ecuador, Tanzania and Haiti, Wagner said.

The state is fairly experienced in its seed conservation efforts because of the diverse and threatened nature of its native and endemic plants and their various storage needs.

"In Hawaii, because we have this peculiar kind of storage behavior and because we're small scale and because our flora is so rare and imperiled, it gives us the opportunity to accommodate these species' individual storage behavior preferences, " Wolkis said.

About 90 % of Hawaii's 1, 400 native vascular plant taxa are found nowhere else in the world, and more than 360 are threatened or endangered. In the early 1990s native seeds were collected, dried, cooled and stored in varying conditions, and those seeds have since been regularly taken from storage and germinated.

This allows researchers to compare the viability of different seeds in different storage conditions over time.

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