Nemo's Garden Project

Is the future of horticulture and agriculture under water?

Unterwassergärten - Foto: ©
When you first look at this project, you probably inevitably think of science fiction and Jules Verne novels. But it is happening right now! At this moment, plants such as basil, thyme, tomatoes, leaf salad, beans and strawberries thrive. Not on land, but off the coast of Italy, under water, in the Bay of Noli.
Futuristic domes floating in the sea
The plant cultivation under water is made possible by special biospheres, domes similar to diving bells, which are anchored in the seabed, so that they float a few meters below the water's surface. The idea comes from Sergio Gamberini, the president of the Ocean Reef Group, which has the ambitious goal of developing alternatives to our current agricultural techniques with the Nemo's Garden Project.
Unterwassergärten - Foto: ©
Project development
If first tests at the beginning of the project were still carried out with small balloons in a water basin, the project now includes several biospheres in the sea where the employees can emerge to look after the plants. The largest underwater greenhouse has a volume of 2,000 liters. In the same way, the project team with its "agrinauts" has grown over time.
Research, tests and experiments
Experimentation is not just with different plant species. Different materials, constructions and environmental conditions are also tested in the spheres. Sensors and cameras are used to capture a variety of data. You can even watch this live on the internet at Important factors are, above others, humidity in the domes, temperature and CO² values.

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Horticulture amd agriculture under water?
So, will divers have their own greenhouses and shrubs in the sea in the near future? Will agriculture be operated under water in the future? It is now not just possible to plant food in the seas. Underwater cultivation even has further advantages: Underwater, the plants are spared from severe temperature fluctuations and storms. Moreover, no pests or vermin can attack the seed, rendering pesticides unnecessary. Through evaporation within the sphere there is virtually continuous irrigation and the spheres can be operated autonomously with only minimal energy expenditure.
Unterwassergärten - Foto: ©
Challenges for the „Agrinauts“
But there are also difficulties and challenges that the "agrinauts" have to face. The costs of maintaining the domes are high. After all, divers with professional equipment are required to maintain the spheres. And it only starts with the cleaning. The sea water absorbs a part of the light. If, moreover, the transparent domes become opaque, the plants do not get enough sunlight to grow. So far breeding has only succeeded on special nutrient media. For normal soil the humidity is too high. It easily becomes mouldy. Also, plants which need a lot of care could not yet be successfully cultivated. And last but not least, there are many water surfaces and deep seas on our blue planet, but not many flat coastal areas that provide all the necessary conditions for underwater biospheres.
Unterwassergärten - Foto: ©
Unterwassergärten - Foto: ©

The project's future and further usages
Taking everything into account, quite a lot would have to happen on shore to turn underwater farming into a real alternative. However, the exploration of the possibilities remains exciting and the data from the spheres produces some new insights. In addition, there could be a whole lot of other possibilities for the use of underwater installations: as a special diving offer in the tourism sector, as stations for the breeding and regeneration of rare coral species or as observation plattforms for marine research. "The only way to find the limits of what is possible is to push a little beyond these into the impossible," as Arthur C. Clarke phrased it.

Miniature biospheres to take home
Become interested to test your abilities as underwarter gardener? There will soon be the possibility to order your own miniature biosphere for your home underwater garden at the project website If you missed the presentation of Nemo’s Garden Project at the boot Düsseldorf 2017, you can also keep up to date with the latest developments online.

Nemo’s Garden...
... is located in the bay of Noli, near Savona, in Italy. About 100m from the coast, the spheres float in depths between 6 and 10 meters.
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