Conventional farming is difficult work. While plants generally need three basic things to survive—soil, water, and sunlight—they are also at the mercy of the weather, diseases, and insects. Traditional greenhouses help control for some of some of the elements, but they aren't feasible for every location because they still require a number of resources to keep them going.
In an effort to escape the shortcomings of these greenhouses, the CEO of Ocean Reef Group, Sergio Gamberini, had an innovative, game-changing thought while vacationing in Italy: what if we grew produce underwater?
And thus, Nemo's Garden was born.
It sounds a bit crazy, but it's actually quite ingenious. As long as the greenhouse wasn't too deep, sunlight would still be able to cut through the water, providing the plants with necessary light. Additionally, water that evaporates will collect at the top of the dome, and trickle back down for the plants to use.
The water also acts as a pretty solid buffer between the plants and weather on land, insects, and changing temperatures.
The domes are tethered down to the sea floor, but don't actually make that much contact. As of yet, there don't seem to be any negative effects from the domes themselves being there. Sea creatures have made homes on the greenhouses, yet don't appear to be damaging the domes or the plants. It has been reported that the domes are providing safe havens for octopuses, sea horses, and crabs.
But does it actually work?
Right now, the project is pretty much just proof of concept, though they've been able to make some great strides during four years of operation. While the underwater domes have yielded strawberries, lettuce, and beans, there is more work to be done.
In particular, Nemo's Garden will have to be mindful of how additional divers, who will be essential to cultivating and harvesting the produce if operations are largely expanded, will affect sea life.
Also, the Italian government has only granted permission for Nemo's Garden to be in use May–September each year, which has eliminated the ability to explore the longterm feasibility of the project.
Curious to learn more? Check out the video below for an overview of their operations:
[All images via: Ocean Reef Group]