Since 2012, Nemo’s Garden, a greenhouse project located off the coast of Noli, Italy, has been growing fresh food and promoting marine life in underwater biospheres.
That’s right — this indoor garden is also submerged in the Mediterranean Sea.
The project began when Sergio Gamberini, a chemical engineer and president of the Ocean Reef Group, wanted to see if food could grow in an underwater environment.
The result is nine biospheres located in the shallow coastal waters that are growing plants, fruits, and vegetables with help from scuba-diving gardeners. So far, the gardens have produced basil, tomatoes, okra, beans, green peas, herbs, and flowers.
The biospheres are made of plastic, somewhat resembling large balloons. Each one can hold about 2,000 liters (528 gallons) of air. The seawater helps to keep the biospheres’ temperature consistent.
Gamberini says his hope with the project is to help dry coastal regions grow healthy food while reducing the need for costly water desalinization programs. These regions are expected to become even drier as the planet warms, increasing the need for long-term food solutions.
Despite being underwater, sunlight makes its way into the pods. There’s no soil — the food is grown via hydroponics and irrigated with water from the biospheres. The self-contained systems, coupled with being submerged in the ocean, mean no pests and no harmful pesticides.
And, according to one study, basil grown in the biospheres showed higher levels of healthy antioxidants as well as other compounds that could make them more beneficial in other applications.
Giacomo d’Orlando, a photojournalist who visited the project, told Sustainable Brands that it felt like visiting another planet. “It was amazing to see what human beings can achieve. Nemo’s Garden has changed my perspective [of possibility], pushing me to pursue more projects involving marine and coastal environments.”
While Nemo’s Garden is strictly a research program, the plan is to scale the tech. Ocean Reef Group has partnered with technology company Siemens and the consulting firm TekSea to explore what scaling Nemo’s Garden could look like.
Photographer Luca Locatelli, who recently visited the project, told National Geographic that we need someone like Gamberini who thinks about “crazy” things.
“It might be something, it might not, [but] I like the fact that someone is so brave to invest money on such a thing,” Locatelli said.
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