From terracing to paddy fields, farmers around the world have used ingenious techniques to grow crops in inhospitable environments. But the underwater farms of Noli, in the region of Liguria, northwest Italy, take the concept a step further.
This coastal region of Italy is known for its picturesque seaside villages and dramatic coastline. But in Noli, the real attraction lies at the bottom of the sea.
Just off Noli’s beach, a team of professional scuba divers has created the world’s first underwater farm. More than 700 plants, including tomatoes, basil, and strawberries, are grown in six underwater greenhouses attached to the seafloor with 28 removable screws.
The project, called Nemo’s Garden, is the brainchild of Sergio Gamberini, a chemical engineer who runs a scuba diving business. In 2013 he was chatting with local farmers when he came up with the idea. Several days later, he plunged to the bottom of Noli’s bay and placed a vase with basil seeds inside a plastic balloon. After 48 hours, the seeds were sprouting and Gamberini decided to scale up the experiment.
Plants are grown thanks to a hybrid technique that supplements natural resources, such as sunlight, with electricity and fresh water pumped from land via a system of tubes. But the ultimate goal of the project is to create self-sufficient underwater farming that could be applied in parts of the world where water is scarce.
Gianni Fontanesi, Nemo’s Garden project manager, has logged nearly a thousand dives to perform underwater farming. He says that being inside the greenhouse is like being in an aquarium turned inside out: “You are the fish looking out into the outside world.”
Know Before You Go
September is probably the best time to visit, as it's when the “harvest feast” takes place.