During its Italian Odyssey, the Energy Observer team went to Noli on the Liguria Coast to discover “Nemo’s Gardens,” a laboratory dedicated to the farming of the future, like something straight out of a Jules Verne novel. Jérôme Delafosse, expedition leader, tells us about his meeting with Gianni Fontanesi, submarine farmer, which took place a few meters below the sea.
“Aquatic, spherical, two-meter diameter greenhouses, installed between 6 and 10 meters deep and firmly anchored to the floor with chains in order to resist storms. They are all named after oceans: Arctic, Antarctic, Pacific, Indian… Inside each dome, we can see divers tending to young green shoots.
I slide under the sphere, take off my mask, my pressure regulator, and find myself in the open air in front of Gianni Fontanesi, who is in charge of the project.” This one-of-a-kind laboratory was created by Sergio Gamberini,” he explains to me, “founder of Ocean Reef, a company which makes underwater diving equipment… Growing plants underwater was this crazy idea born out of a joke with a farmer friend, but he went ahead and did it…”
Some years later, after a series of tests during which he had to determine the types of seeds, substrates, the Nemo’s Garden team has experienced success and failure… But the current system which operates on the hydroponics model (cultivation without soil) has passed all tests and can now be replicated elsewhere.
A submarine oasis just a few meters from the deckchairs of the Italian Riviera.
The air is warm, at 26 degrees, and, around me in a spiral-shaped pipe equipped with small jars, I discover basil, sage, aloe vera, quinoa, several varieties of medicinal plants and even strawberry plants. Gianni explains to me that under water, there are no problems regarding frost, insects or drought. Here everything is analyzed in real time; thanks to WiFi-linked sensors and cameras on the surface, we can control everything, even the amount of sunshine. The other great success of the project is that Nemo’s gardens function as an artificial reef. The installation attracts several marine species such as seahorses, rays, octopus, and many fish.
Dream or a genuine hope to address desertification?
Created in collaboration with the department of agronomy at the University of Pisa, technological success could allow the implementation of these underwater vegetable gardens, to produce vegetables on a large scale in desert areas where all forms of agriculture are impossible, in the Arabian peninsula or East Africa, for example. The system remains affordable, with each sphere costing 6,000 euros, a dome, ballast, hydroponic system, light and fan included. Moreover, the installations are accessible by free diving given that they are relatively shallow. But first we must reproduce this system to test it under other latitudes, continues Gianni. If the future of this unique experience is not yet clear, it is worth finding solutions for the future of our planet, as we will have to eventually feed 9 billion human beings. ”
Check out this underwater encounter this autumn on Planète+ in “The Odyssey for the Future,” Energy Oberver’s event series.