Dive beneath the turquoise waves off Noli, Italy, and you’ll find biospheres just meters under the surface. Within these domes, researchers look after herbs, strawberries, tomatoes, and tobacco, in order to explore the limits of farming on Earth, with the hope that they may one day be able to do the same in space.
A decade ago, Luca Gamberini’s father, Sergio, decided to pursue what seemed to Luca like a madcap scheme to grow plants under the sea. The Gamberini family business, Ocean Reef Group, specializes in diving and scuba equipment. Agriculture was not part of the picture. But after the idea to plant underwater crops emerged from a dinner between Sergio – who had a passion for gardening, as well as scuba diving – and a farmer friend of his, he decided to try it.
This setup also allows an exchange of CO2 from the ocean inside the dome, adds Gamberini. “We’ve noticed that this environment doesn’t really need to be replenished that much,” he says.
In many ways, the technology is similar to vertical farming systems: it’s a soil-free, controlled, and carefully monitored environment, remote from the farmer, with live cameras in every pod. But in the underwater system, the surrounding sea provides an incredibly stable thermal environment for the plants, therefore reducing energy use.
The light from the Sun that reaches underwater is also sufficient for the growth of the plants, Gamberini adds, compared to the LED lights in vertical farms, which again use energy. He also says the plants grow faster and have higher levels of essential oils.
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