Day trip | Italy

Underwater gardening

Off the coast of Italy, fruit and vegetables are being cultivated 10 meters below the sea's surface. Could these futuristic greenhouses be a prototype for how to grow food in an uncertain future?

Under water, everything is blue. At the top left, the light reflects. You can see bubbles and a few small fish. In the middle there is a metal scaffold in the shape of a tower. The top is a metal flower. On the left and the right side of the picture there are two big plastic balls.

Underwater gardens near Noli, Italy

It is as if you have landed on another planet. Breathing freely, you stand in a dome, surrounded by basil, strawberries and cherry tomatoes, with fish swimming around you and bubbles rising to the surface. “Nemo's Garden” is the name of the place located a few kilometres off the Ligurian coast near the small village of Noli. This is the site of the world's first underwater greenhouses, housing fruits and vegetables that normally only thrive on land.

The idea for the farm, where plants are cultivated and harvested below sea level, came from Sergio Gamberini, who has been experimenting with sustainable agriculture since 2012. Climate change is putting enormous strain on resources: as well as desertification and rising temperatures, agriculture uses 70 percent of global freshwater supplies. This backdrop prompted engineer and amateur gardener Gamberini to search for new cultivation methods.

"Nemo's Garden" is composed of several biospheres; transparent plastic spheres that seem to float in the water like bubbles. Each of them holds 2,000 litres of air and up to 120 plants - using coconut fibres instead of soil. The salt water condenses on the inner walls of the domes and turns into fresh water, which gradually drips onto the plants. To ensure they get enough light and that divers can reach them easily, the greenhouses are anchored at a maximum depth of ten metres.

The structures are gathered around the "tree of life", a framework that houses the measuring devices and cables for monitoring the oxygen and CO2 content, the humidity and the temperature. In the meantime, the futuristic constructions have become a haven for fish, which seek shelter there, hide from predators and also mate. Even rare seahorses have been sighted near the greenhouses.