I am a fan of archives and have covered their digital avatars here often enough. I am especially keen on any archive, whether physical or digital, that takes access as an important elements of its mission. And I don't just like archives of books and manuscript, I also dig archives that have nothing to do with the written word. For instance, if you haven't marveled, drop-jawed, at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, do. I'll wait here.

Cool, right? Well, coming a close second to that in my personal pantheon of parchment-free archives is a digital project called ARKive. Their goal: no less than the capture and preservation of a photographic record of every species under the sun.

According to ARKive, its mission is "Promoting the Conservation of the World's Threatened Species, Through the Power of Wildlife Imagery."

"Powerful wildlife imagery is an emotive and effective means of building environmental awareness and engagement, and quick and easy access to this imagery is essential in the digital mass communications society we live in today.

"However, until now, this valuable imagery has been scattered throughout the world, in a wide variety of private, commercial and specialist collections, with no centralised collection, restricted public access, limited educational use, and no co-ordinated strategy for its long term preservation.

"ARKive is now putting that right, gathering together the very best films and photographs of the world's species into one centralised digital library, to create a unique audio-visual record of life on Earth, prioritising those species at most risk of extinction. Preserved and maintained for future generations, ARKive is making this key resource accessible to all, from scientists and conservationists to the general public and school children"

The group's immediate goal is the completion of audio-visual profiles for all of the threatened species on the IUCN Red List.

I spoke with Merove Heifetz, ARKive's chief operations officer, about progress toward this goal.

"There are an estimated 1.9 million known species globally, with likely many more yet to be discovered (mostly very small organisms). To date, we have profiled nearly 14,000 species on ARKive. We have researched all 19,000+ species on the Red List (plus some other species that are not on that list, but are still threatened or regarded as species of conservation need to some degree), and have found that generally, the remaining species that we have yet to cover are those incredibly rare and cryptic species that may have never been captured on camera. We are working with the scientific community and IUCN scientists who may likely be the only individuals to have ever seen some of these species to see if they can help us gain further imagery for those. Having said that, on average, we add about 200 additional species to the site each month."

Access to the ARKive is free and it features photographic records that are extensive and downloadable. Extremely high-resolution versions are contained in a secure digital vault for future study.

"We bank all of the imagery on ARKive.org in its highest resolution in a secure digital vault for posterity," Heifetz told us.

The materials can be browsed by species group or eco-region or can be searched. Additional information includes topics like climate change and geography. Also on offer is an educational menu tailored to specific age groups. The photos themselves can be viewed individually or as slideshows and each species' photo gallery is accompanied by a detailed description of the animal or plant.

ARKive is run as a non-profit initiative by Wildscreen, a non-profit organization that promotes global biodiversity. Begun 25 years ago, the group's patrons include England's Royal Highness Prince Philip and the wildlife filmmaker Sir David Attenborough, among others

Other sources: Discovery News