There are many types of gardens but it’s not commonplace to come across an underwater garden. The marvel, called Nemo’s Garden, was developed by a group of Italian scuba divers and is the first underwater garden to contain terrestrial plants.
The project’s goal was initially a provocation, but it suddenly turned into something more ambitious — to create an alternative system of agriculture specially dedicated to those areas where environmental conditions, economical reasons, or morphologic reasons make growing plants extremely difﬁcult.
Nemo’s Garden is an underwater garden that aims to create a system that utilizes natural resources already available, the foremost important one being the oceans and other bodies of water.
The concept of an underwater garden
In the summer of 2012, Sergio Gamberini, founder of diving equipment ﬁrm Ocean Reef Group, was enjoying a seaside vacation on the Italian Riviera. Resting in between dives, he enjoyed strolling along the edge of the sea chatting with friends.
One day, the conversation veered to his other passion — gardening.
Would it be possible, he wondered, to create the perfect growing conditions for basil, the most popular local herb and an essential ingredient for pesto? Like most herbs, basil prefers protected, sunny locations with well-drained soils and a constant, stable temperature.
Glancing at the sea, Gamberini was struck with an unusual idea — why not try to grow basil in an underwater garden? Bizarre as it might have seemed, the idea made perfect sense coming from a diving aﬁcionado and innovation-minded entrepreneur.
In fact, it would have allowed Mr. Gamberini to combine two of his passions — scuba diving and gardening. He made a couple of phone calls and, with the help of his team at Ocean Reef Group, started experimenting, sinking transparent biospheres 20 feet below the surface of the sea at Noli in Liguria, Italy.
The first underwater farm in the world contains over 700 plants. They are cultivated in underwater greenhouses and these are fixed to the seafloor with removable screws. They rely on solar energy while evaporated seawater is condensed on the glass ceiling.
There are hurdles involved in growing regular terrestrial plants underwater. The team had to cope with their share of hassles. The air-filled greenhouses suffered serious storm damage in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic also affected their work to a certain degree.
The good thing is that the facility was not damaged even after months of abandonment because of the pandemic, which made the work of making underwater gardens operational relatively easy.
Self-sustainable and eco-friendly
Nemo’s Garden is not only a technological endeavor, aimed at making underwater farming an economically viable, long-term alternative form of agriculture, but it is foremost a self-sustainable and eco-friendly project.
The use of renewable energy harnessed from the sun and of freshwater obtained by desalination of seawater, in fact, makes Nemo’s Garden a self-sustainable system.
The microclimate and thermal conditions within the biospheres are optimal for plant growth and crop yields, not unlike a conventional greenhouse, yet it requires no additional energy sources.
A new environment for botanical research and further opportunities
The project has also drawn attention to the research side as well. Nemo’s Garden has already been rented to pharmaceutical companies willing to explore this alternative solution in growing plants. These companies believe that plants grown underwater may unveil interesting discoveries for the future.
“Every year, we are discovering new possible applications for the biospheres,” said Gianni Fontanesi, project coordinator at Nemo’s Garden.
These include eco-tourism, fish farming, seaweed farming, or scientific research labs or underwater stations for monitoring wildlife, scientific research, etc.
The underwater harvesting method results in vegetables with intense flavors. Controlling the plant environment is also easier underwater. As of now, Nemo’s Garden is currently an experiment that is paving the way to bolster future food production.