One hundred and thirty feet offshore from the village of Noli in Italy’s Liguria region, six large clear domes, or biospheres, like a bloom of enormous jellyfish moored to the ocean floor are growing herbs, vegetables, and flowers.
The project is known as Nemo's Garden, and it's the world's first—and only—underwater greenhouse. These biospheres utilize the ocean's favorable environmental qualities like temperature stability, CO2 absorption, and natural pest control to create a habitat appropriate for producing a plethora of fresh produce, according to Euronews Green.
Nemo's Garden has significant implications for the future of Earth, as it was specifically designed for regions where environmental, economic, or morphologic factors make plant development particularly challenging. The world will need to feed a global population of 9.3 billion amid increasingly unstable climate conditions by 2050, per United Nations, and the team behind the project believes that underwater farms could provide a supply of food for coastal populations where agriculture must be innovative to survive.
Inside the Nemo's Garden
Nemo's Garden came to be after Sergio Gamberini, president of diving equipment manufacturer Ocean Reef, was challenged by a farmer friend in 2012 to combine his experience building diving equipment with his love for gardening.
Since then, Nemo’s Garden has been investigating the idea of cultivating terrestrial plants under the sea. More than a hundred different plants have taken root in this subterranean garden, ranging from medicinal and aromatic herbs to food like salad greens, beans, and strawberries. They have not only successfully harvested a range of crops from the biospheres, but they have also determined that the plants produced in this environment were reportedly richer in nutritional content than those grown using traditional methods. It, of course, doesn't stop there.
"Every year, we are discovering new possible applications for the biospheres,” says Gianni Fontanesi, project coordinator at Nemo’s Garden. Ecotourism, fish farming, seaweed farming, scientific research labs, and underwater wildlife research stations are some examples.
But can it be scaled?
When it comes to the engineering of it, approximately 20,000 liters of air are held over a body of surface water inside each dome. The sun's light flows through the water outside the biospheres to reach and heat the air within. When there is less natural light in the winter, LEDs attached to the surface by a power wire give an extra source of light. The water outside maintains the temperature within the dome steady day and night, and evaporation and condensation inside the dome keep the plants supplied with freshwater.
Nemo's Garden is supported by Siemens Digital Industries Software, which enables the team to monitor the biospheres remotely and hopefully accelerates the innovation cycles toward more rapid industrialization and scale.
The concept has already proven to be effective and successful, which means the team may now begin exporting the technology to other places. In fact, biospheres have already been built in Belgium and the Florida Keys, with more on the way.
“Theoretically, the project considerably increases the percentage of the world’s surface that could be used for growing crops, especially in countries where environmental conditions make growing plants difficult,” Gamberini explained to Modern Farmer. The team's ultimate goal is to bring down the cost of their goods as much as feasible. “The price for our basil plants will never be comparable to what you pay in a supermarket. That being said, they come with a much reduced environmental footprint."