An hour from Genoa in northwest Italy, off the coast of the picturesque village of Noli, nine transparent plastic domes are underwater, filled with fragrant herbs. National Geographic.
Here, a team of researchers grow over 100 different fruits, herbs, flowers and vegetables in futuristic underwater baths. Known as Nemo's Garden, the installation is an experiment designed to test the viability of underwater greenhouses.
The flooded "biospheres" are made up of plastic domes fitted with hydroponic equipment, plant seeds, and fans to circulate air. Each dome is like a "miniature space station," says Sergio Gamberini, inventor of the garden and CEO of Ocean Reef, a US-Italian company that mainly manufactures diving equipment.
Gamberini, a manufacturer of diving equipment, asked himself where to find the best conditions for growing basil. Answer: in the ocean, where there is enough water, and the temperature does not fluctuate too much, reports Insider.
How is it possible
Obsessed with his idea, he began building air-filled underwater domes with the help of his family, investing more than $100 of his own money. The location for the project was carefully chosen. The domes ended up in a place where 000% of the sunlight could still penetrate, and the water has a constant temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius in summer. The ambitious plan seemed to pay off. In just seven weeks, basil seeds developed into real plants that tasted just as good, if not better, than their land-grown counterparts.
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The idea of glass domes is quite simple: each dome is filled with approximately 20 liters of air that is above the surface of the water, while sunlight naturally penetrates the water column and naturally heats the domes and the air inside.
Nemo's Garden takes advantage of the almost constant sea temperature to make it easier to grow plants.
The garden was first created in 2013 by Sergio Gamberini and his son off the coast of Noli, Italy. While the initial experiments were swept away by a storm, a stronger structure was built soon after.
The garden is connected to a waterfront control tower that controls each biosphere and provides power. The Ocean Reef Group also manufactures smaller biospheres that can be placed inside aquariums.
What are the benefits of underwater farms
Growing food in these domes means there is no need to water plants or use pesticides, says Oceanographic. Gamberini hopes to help dry coastal countries grow more food without costly desalination for crops.
“Imagine all the coasts and all the countries where there is enough water. I think that in 10 or even 20 years this technology will be spread all over the world,” says Gamberini enthusiastically.
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The world population is expected to reach 2050 billion by 9,3, and climate change poses more and more risks.
Feeding an ever-growing population is one of the biggest challenges of our time. But growing vegetables underwater on a large scale is still a dream, as underwater vegetables are still very expensive to produce. As an example, a gram of basil from an underwater farm currently costs about $10, while a gram of field-grown basil can be bought for as little as five cents.
“The price of our basil plants will never compare to the price you pay in the supermarket. At the same time, they have a significantly lower environmental impact,” adds Gamberini.
Interestingly, the team also found that plants grown in underwater domes were more nutritious than those grown on land. In an article published by Modern Farmer, Gamberini said: "Theoretically, the project greatly increases the percentage of the world's surface that could be used for crop production, especially in countries where environmental conditions make it difficult to grow plants."
“Every year we open up new possibilities for using biospheres,” says Gianni Fontanesi, project coordinator. Some of these may include ecotourism, seaweed farming, and wildlife research stations among other ideas.
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“We need someone who thinks about crazy things that come from real passion – not just ordinary inventions,” says Luca Locatelli, a photographer who visited the site last year to study its biosphere and even taste the pesto prepared underwater basil. “There may or may not be something to it, but I love the fact that someone is brave enough to invest in such a thing.”
Only time will tell if Italian underwater domes will provide food on a larger scale in the future. One thing is clear: these brave pioneers of underwater farming have achieved great success.
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