Video: World's First Underwater Farm May Be the Future of Agriculture
One hundred meters off the coast of Noli, Italy, scuba divers approach a pod of 2,000-liter acrylic demi-spheres that resemble giant jellyfish standing at the bottom of the ocean. Anchored to the ocean floor by ropes, chains, and screws, the biospheres surround a half-ton metal tree that serves as a 12-foot-tall cable protector. But take a closer look: bright, fresh plants are inside, thriving 15-36 feet below the surface.
Founded in 2012 by father and son duo Sergio and Luca Gamberini, and run by scuba company Ocean Reef Group, Nemo’s Garden is an underwater farm that grows anything from basil (their first plant) to aloe vera. The pair, acutely aware of the limitations of Earth’s resources and humanity’s ability to squander them, sought an alternative solution for the precarious process of farming, which has become an increasingly difficult process as climate change intensifies.
“The resources we use on land right now will not be there in the future,” says Luca in a video Volvo produced to showcase the pair. “They’re scarce, and they will run out.”
Why Is the Future of Farming Underwater?
Underwater, many of the issues of traditional farming vanish while still providing plants with their core needs. Isolated from inclement weather like hail or the devastating effects of parasites, the sunlight each plant needs still reaches the biospheres. Eliminating potential for parasites also lets Nemo’s Garden remain pesticide-free. (Although, the occasional crab or octopus stops by to check out the setup).
The stability of the ocean’s temperature creates a low-maintenance water management system, while traditional farms often struggle with insufficient or inconsistent rain. The temperature difference inside and the outside of the spheres causes the water at the bottom to evaporate and condense on the inner walls, thus feeding more than 90 seeds in each biosphere.
But these biospheres went through many iterations before evolving into the plant utopias they are today.
Room to Grow
Sergio and Luca grew their first underwater crop, basil, in the Bay of Noli in 2012. Since then, their mechanisms have evolved: what once looked like plastic bags that storms washed ashore now looks like technology plucked straight from Atlantis.
Perfecting humidity for each plant species remains a constant learning process. They grow 50-60 different species in their seven biospheres, creating their first “scuba salad” during the summer of 2014 with underwater basil and salad leaves. After switching to hydroponics, a method of growing plants that replaces soil with nutrient solution, Nemo’s Garden has seen more success growing vegetables.
If you were wondering, the underwater plants and vegetables taste the same as their land-born counterparts, according to analysis by private research company CeRSAA. Due to the extra pressure of cultivating underwater, the plants grow faster and contain a higher concentration of essential oils.
Sergio and Luca still aspire to scale-up underwater farming as a sustainable game-changer in the agriculture industry. But relief workers like Rachel Kerr expressed concerns to the Guardian about maintaining local food infrastructure. “It would need to respect local customs and be mindful of the environment [the ocean].”
Luca remains optimistic.
“This idea that my dad dreamt about and we created together — this could really be something for the future,” he says. “Something that could change the future we live in.”