Everyone knows the tale of Noah’s ark, in which a magical procession of animals, two-by-two, marched onto a massive, regal-looking, wooden ship to survive a gigantic horrendous storm of 40 days and 40 nights. So whether life on an ark is really possible is an interesting concept for a scientist like me to contemplate.
There are some real-life examples of arks protecting life for future times.
One such example is actually a boat, too. In 2011 a small, open-topped fishing boat was swept out to sea by a tsunami raging around Japan. It spent two years drifting along the currents in the Pacific Ocean and was finally washed ashore in the state of Washington, USA. The boat was filled with water and more remarkably an entire ecosystem. Scientists studied the individuals found on the boat closely. Most of the 30 different species are only found in Japan, including mussels, fish, sea cucumbers and crabs now over 4,000 miles from home. They also found some fish that were less than two years old. So he either jumped on board along the way, or was born on the boat.
This remarkable ecosystem traveling the world reveals how animals and plants might have been able to colonise islands and continents far from home. Being swept out to sea, tiny capsules of life with enormous luck to survive against all odds become new colonisers of barren lands.
But arks do not have to be boats or ships. Modern-day arks take on many-a-form.
Seed banks around the world store millions of plant seeds of thousands of different species. The Millennium Seed Bank at Kew, Surrey, currently holds and protects 13% of the world’s wild plant species and aims to increase this to 25% by 2020.
This is a safe store in case of extinction in the wild. The conserved seeds are also used for research into agriculture, forestry, health and ecosystem repair.
Other arks are zoological and botanical gardens. They not only display a huge range of animal and plants, but also do important conservation work around the world.
A somewhat more unusual ark are online databases, such as GenBank and BRENDA. These gargantuan biological databases contain a vast amount of information. They not only enable ongoing research, but also serve as a safe storage place for genetic information for future generations of scientists and researchers.
So, arks are not only a tale, they really are possible and do exist around the world. They may just not always have that same magical flair as Noah’s ark.