Planting at the bottom of the sea looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. But it’s a real experience that takes place in Noli, a seaside town in Italy. Led by the Italian Sergio Gamberini, the company Ocean Reef Group maintains underwater greenhouses, which take advantage of the sea conditions to produce fresh vegetables.
The world’s first underwater farm works as follows. Transparent biospheres are anchored to the seabed. Each dome has a diameter of two meters and houses up to one hundred floors. Inside, an adapted and constantly monitored microclimate is recreated.
Temperature conditions, which average 25°C, high humidity and large amounts of carbon dioxide facilitate the development of plants, making growth much faster.
In total, there are six transparent biospheres that cultivate different species. Lettuce, strawberries and beans are examples already produced in the sea.
In general, aromatic plants and those that prefer high humidity and high average temperatures grow best in the structure. Basil, for example, was chosen for the initial experiment. After 48 hours, the seeds have already given the first shoots.
“Every year we discover new possible applications for biospheres”, explains Gianni Fontanesi, project coordinator. According to him, this includes ecotourism, fish farming, seaweed farming, scientific research laboratories or underwater wildlife monitoring stations.
The system has been dubbed Nemo’s garden, referring to the animated film Finding Nemo. And the whole structure is powered by solar panels and wind turbines that guarantee the necessary energy.
The equipment has a real-time monitoring system. The data collected is used to monitor oxygen and carbon levels. The creators ensure that the biospheres do not affect marine life. In an interview with The Washington Post, officials explained that the site attracts animals that take shelter under the structure. Seahorses and crabs are most common around anchors and talons.
The hope of the Italians is that it will be a economically sustainable agricultural model which can be replicated in different locations, even for individual productions.
For Ocean Reef Group, underwater farms can provide food for coastal communities. The company gives the example of the Maldives, which imports nearly 100% of its fresh produce by air. The opportunity would be to create a “self-sufficient agricultural nation that uses underwater greenhouses to serve local industry and tourism”.
Another advantage is that this type of culture avoid the use of pesticides. The group is considering producing fertilizer from algae, to complete the sustainable cycle.
In eight years of the project, many waters have already flowed. In October 2019, the continuity of the project was threatened by strong storms, which damaged the structures. The team, however, managed to “resurrect” the underwater greenhouses.
The following year, it’s the pandemic. For months, Nemo’s garden was left unprotected and still stands. It was recently reopened and continues to attract visitors.