Space & Innovation

Octopus's Garden? Underwater Greenhouses Thrive

A project off the coast of Italy grows plants in submerged biospheres anchored to the sea floor.

As counter-intuitive ideas go, this one's hard to beat: Instead of raising crops on land - where they've been growing for, you know, millions of years - how about growing them underwater, in the ocean?

It seems bonkers, but that's exactly what's happening off the coast of Italy at Nemo's Garden, an experimental botanical facility in which fruits and vegetables are grown in balloon-like biospheres anchored to the sea floor.

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Assembled by the Italian diving company Ocean Reef Group, the garden is made up of five structures that resemble old-fashioned diving bells. Air is trapped under a transparent dome suspended beneath the waves, with rings of shelving along the interior housing soil beds for fruits and vegetables.

The set-up has several advantages for the plants. The underwater temperature remains more or less constant, and water evaporation within the biosphere provides an atmosphere rich in humidity and carbon dioxide.

Due to weather conditions (and government permits), the garden can only be maintained for four months out of the year - from around May through September.

Storms have overturned the biospheres several times, but the Ocean Reef team reports that growth rates are radically accelerated due to the optimal growing conditions. Equipment mounted within the biospheres provide live video and data feeds.

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For now, the gardens are being maintained as a kind of experimental test site, with small-yield crops including strawberries, lettuce and beans. The group has plans to expand the program with other crops, especially mushrooms, which the researchers anticipate would thrive in the humid environment.

Besides the designated divers (heh), Nemo's Garden is also attracting other visitors - like crabs and octopuses, who seem to like taking shelter under the structures. Wouldn't Ringo be proud.

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