Italy: Basil grown underwater at “Nemo’s Farm”

Diving enthusiasts in Liguria, North East Italy, have launched an experimental underwater basil crop in the hope that they can develop the idea and export basil to drier areas across the globe. Sergio Gamberini, CEO of Ocean Reef, an Italian-American company specialising in underwater communication systems, came up with the idea to grow plants underwater and launched “Nemo’s Farm”, a project which is in it’s fourth season this year.

Three plastic bell shaped structures are set up 8 metres under water, big enough for the divers to stand up in and work without their masks. Evaporation keeps humidity levels at 80 to 90% under the bells, condensation supplies the plants with freshwater, which make the air in their bubbles themselves thanks to photosynthesis. To protect the Mediterranean ecosystem, the government has only authorised the biospheres to be used between June and September, a wise decision that means that the rest of the year “Nemo’s Farm” is tidied away and the material is removed from the sea, leaving nature in peace. Gianni Fontanesi, Head of Management for the project, explains that farming underwater gives heat stability, “the sea retains the temperature, without a big difference between the day and night.” 60% of light from the surface reaches the plants at this depth, which is “more than enough”. The greenhouses are protected from insects and parasites that could damage the plants above ground- ideal growing conditions. The conditions are, in fact, so good that foliage has a higher density than the average achieved above ground.

Nemo’s Farm has experimented with lettuce, mushrooms, tomatoes, strawberries and beans. This method could be an interesting solution for dry regions by the sea where there is not enough fresh water or there is too much of a difference in temperature between the day and night to grow vegetables. Obviously the method would have to be profitable, to start with a mini version of Nemo’s farm will be made for people to use at home in their aquariums. Ocean Reef will start crowdfunding over the next few weeks.

Underwater basil was amongst the 20 innovative ideas put forward in Italy at the 2015 Universal Exposition in Milan, which was dedicated to food.

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