Just off the coast of Noli, Italy, tethered twenty feet below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea, hover five bulbous biospheres filled with plants, light, and warm, wet air.
The underwater greenhouses make up Nemo’s Garden, an experimental agricultural project, now in its fourth year, operated by a company that specializes in diving equipment. As Robert Gebelhoff reports at The Washington Post:
The balloon-like biospheres take advantage of the sea’s natural properties to grow plants. The underwater temperatures are constant, and the shape of the greenhouses allows for water to constantly evaporate and replenish the plants. What’s more, the high amounts of carbon dioxide act like steroids for the plants, making them grow at very rapid rates.
Ocean Reef Group — a diving equipment company — is monitoring five balloon-like biospheres that house a number of plants, such as basil, lettuce, strawberries and beans. The group has a patent on the structure and plans to build a few more to experiment with other crops, such as mushrooms, which should thrive in the humid environment.
Sergio Gamberini, president of Ocean Reef Group, came up with the “crazy” idea of growing plants under the sea while on a summer vacation in Italy. He immediately made a few calls and started experimenting, sinking the transparent biospheres under the ocean and filling them with air.
A video released earlier this year shows members of Gamberini’s team surfacing inside the underwater habitats and tending to their crops, sans scuba masks (around the 2:40 mark):
Sensors inside the underwater habitats provide real time data on things like humidity, pH levels, air temperature, and carbon dioxide levels. A 24-hour livestream of the experiment appears below:
“The hope,” writes Gebelhoff, “is that the company’s success so far may lay the foundation for a new form of crop production that can be done without harming the environment.”
This is fascinating. Even if fails, Gamberini’s project will probably provide a trove of useful data on how to rear crops in a harsh, barren, or otherwise unconventional agricultural environment, be it the ocean floor, or another planet.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo Credit: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images.