Nemo’s Garden: The Underwater Farm That is Tackling Food Insecurity in Italy

Have you ever visited the ocean and been truly mesmerized by its beauty and power? Have you stared down into the deep blue and thought of all the life that prevails at the bottom of the sea? Sergio Gamberini has — and it inspired a truly incredible idea.

How It Started

Gamberini is the founder of the diving equipment firm Ocean Reef Group. The company originated in the late 1940s when the Gamberini family, who owned a small tire repair shop at the time, partnered with Commander Ferraro to develop scuba gear. Ferraro is one of the few living recipients of the Italian Navy’s highest honor, the Military Gold Medal, for his military scuba skills used during World War II. Combining their efforts, and eventually joining forces with Egidio and Nanni Cressi and Ludovico Mares, the group developed two massive scuba gear companies: Technisub and Mares.

Photo: Nemo’s Garden By OCEAN REEF GROUP

When Inspiration Strikes

Fast forward to September of 2012. Sergio Gamberini, who inherited his family business and turned it into the Ocean Reef company that exists today, was vacationing on the Italian Riviera. As he broke from his leisurely dive to chat with some friends about hobbies and passions, he considered his love of gardening and his desire to one day develop the perfect growing conditions for basil, the most popular herb in Italy. As he thought and looked out to the sea for inspiration, an unusual idea struck him. What would it take to grow basil underwater?

Photo: Nemo’s Garden By OCEAN REEF GROUP

As far-fetched as the idea may seem, Gamberini made quick work of developing prototypes and utilizing resources at Ocean Reef to prove the validity of his theory. He started experimenting by sinking large, transparent biospheres 20 feet below the water and filling them with air and seedbeds. The experiment was such a success that what started as proof of concept quickly developed into Nemo’s Garden, which now “aims to create a system that utilizes natural resources already available, the foremost important one being the oceans and other bodies of water.”

How Will This Impact The Environment?

Nemo’s Garden is not only an incredible example of how nutrient-rich the sea can be, but is both a self-sustainable and eco-friendly project. Renewable energy is harnessed from the sun and fresh water, which is obtained by desalinating the surrounding seawater. Each biosphere contains a microclimate with thermal conditions, proving to yield crops at a comparable level to greenhouses, without requiring additional energy. Better yet, the biospheres are minimally invasive to the marine ecosystems, and has shown to support the repopulation of prey species who seek shelter under and around the domes.

Photo: Nemo’s Garden By OCEAN REEF GROUP

“If we continue to exploit and reduce our forest stocks and our green lungs, the climate change process will accelerate, leading to the rise of sea levels,” explained Luca Gamberini, marketing manager for Ocean Reef Group. “But now we can look at our oceans as a resource to be protected in a sustainable way that we can explore at the same time as an alternative to traditional farming.”

What’s The End Goal?

Although Nemo’s Garden had to take a particularly long pause during the coronavirus pandemic, the scuba farmers have returned to the six underwater greenhouses off the coast of Noli, Italy, producing not just basil but tomatoes, courgettes, beans, green peas, aloe vera, mushrooms, and strawberries.

Photo: Nemo’s Garden By OCEAN REEF GROUP

“The advantage is not only to obtain a plant that is fully enhanced, its taste is even strong and more intense. But it’s also possible to do so within an environment that is fully protected,” Gamberini continued. “It’s a lab and nothing can reach the plant unless it’s being brought in from outside.”

Photo: Nemo’s Garden By OCEAN REEF GROUP

Although at this stage Nemo’s Garden remains a research facility, the hope is that, over time, it will assist in the fight against food insecurity for the nearby coastal areas. If you’d like to join the team at Nemo’s Garden in helping protect our oceans, consider this gift that gives more. Each donation helps support beach and ocean cleanups, educate the public on finding alternatives to plastic, support conservationists working to restore marine habitats, and much more.

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