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Nemo’s Garden, is it possible to grow plants underwater?

By Sara Stefanovic
6 min read

Nemo’s Garden is the first underwater cultivation of land plants. It is an alternative farming system, dedicated above all to those areas where environmental conditions, economic or morphological reasons make it extremely difficult for plants to grow. The goal of Nemo’s Garden is to create a system that uses the natural resources already available, the most important of which are the oceans and other bodies of water.

Nemo’s Garden is not only a technological endeavor, aimed at making underwater farming an economically viable, long-term alternative form of agriculture, but most and foremost it is an eco-friendly and self-sustainable project. The use of renewable energy harnessed from the sun and of fresh water obtained by desalination of seawater, in fact, make 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. Underwater farming determines very minimal, if none, interaction with the marine environment and related ecosystems, exception made for a positive shelter-like effect in order to support the repopulation for the surrounding marine areas. Today, on the occasion of our footprint, we decided to contact them to tell us everything about this incredible project.

How did this idea come about?

Federico Giunto: «The project was born as a research project in 2012 from the mind of Sergio Gamberoni, with the help of Ocean Reef Group, as regards underwater technology. He came avout with the idea of growing plants underwater as he is passionate about diving and gardening. This is a provocation based on a long-term vision: the planet is covered with water and, farming is requiring more and more space, so why not exploit the ocean to create farm-to-table food?

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Ph: OceanReefGroup2021

There are real advantages: the environment is closed under water, therefore free of parasites, the temperature remains constant, there are no frosts or sudden changes. The tub can be colder or warmer, but it still remains a more protected environment.

The project has seen a real development over time. From the first rudimentary experiments with balloons, we moved on to spherical structures up to the polycarbonate biospheres that allow us to have an internal space to work».

How many biospheres are there today?

Federico Giunto: «Currently there are six biospheres, three are located at greater depth, while the other three are more afloat. They range from 6 to 10 meters deep, and one is located at even greater depth as a sentinel. Inside the biosphere, in addition to the plants, which grow through a hydroponic-based system, there is a tank that contains fresh water recovered thanks to condensation. The hydroponic system does not provide for the use of soil, also because the land is exploited too much, we are trying to find more and more alternative systems.

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Ph: OceanReefGroup2021

Nowadays this project may seem futuristic, but on a practical level it could be very useful in certain parts of the world. There are some islands where there is no possibility to cultivate, as the land is not arable. The islanders are forced to import everything! This system would allow them to develop an underwater agricultural system and save in terms of supply. In addition, the plants grown underwater have boast a greater quantity of essential oils than the ‘terrestrial’ ones».

What seedlings are you growing?

Federico Giunto: «Aromatic herbs are the ones that grow best, the first we tested was a Genoese basil plant, we noticed that it grew faster in its initial phase. Then, in addition to basil, we added marjoram, aloe vera and now we have more than 100 species of seedlings. The researches are specific and concern certain crops, but it’s safe to say that all the experiments were successful. The only limit is the physical one, we cannot plant plants with too tall or bulky stems yet, however every biosphere can produce kilos of vegetables and fruit.

Nemo's garden
Ph: OceanReefGroup2021

The only problem linked to their location were the storm surges, there was a particularly violent one that damaged the biospheres on the surface… However, they faced it well».

And what about the light?

Federico Giunto: «The sun is not a problem, because the rays are able to penetrate very well up to 10 meters underwater. The problem is not so much that of rays, as the possible accidents that can occur, the loss of an oil tanker could compromise the whole project. We are trying to carry out projects that also involve young people, in order to educate them in terms of ethics and collaboration».

Nemo's garden

Are the biospheres polluting?

Federico Giunto: «The biospheres were installed in a place where there was nothing and they do not pollute, on the contrary… they have created a small ecosystem with great biodiversity. Algae, which attract many fish and marine animals, have grown on the Tree of Life and on the platform, we have brought a little life where there use to be nothing».

Does the air come out when a person enters them?

Federico Giunto: «No, because the volume of a single person is not greater than the air present in the biospheres, the water enters if the air comes out. Furthermore, the air is always controlled and monitored and is sufficient for breathing and for the plants to breathe. If this is not enough, we can fill the biospheres with air».

Nemo's garden

How do you bring out the harvest?

Federico Giunto: «We use sealed envelopes. Sometimes an operator lets the bags rise by themselves and emerge on the surface of the water in order to be collected».

Projects for the future?

Federico Giunto: «Definitely develop the project further. This year, we’ll end up being research project and we will turn into a startup. We have many goals and many small problems to solve on a technical level. One idea we are developing is to use algae as a fertilizer, so that we no longer have to take it off the land. We would like to enlarge the project making it as scalable as possible and we would also like to touch on the tourism discourse. The biospheres would be unique tourist attractions to link more recreational activities to work activities».

Nemo's garden
Nemo’s garden

Like an underwater snack?

Federico Giunto: «Yes, this already happens every now and then. We have a sandwich taken to the biosphere and we forget being underwater. Last year a shoal of anchovies did a very suggestive dance, it was as if you were inside an aquarium and they were the spectators… Careless spectators to tell the truth».

Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

Federico Giunto: «Nobody believed it possible, changing the world may sound crazy. This project seems to be something very far from our present, but it is no longer so in the end».

6 min read

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