The history of Nemo's Garden started in 2012 in the Bay of Noli, on the Italian Riviera, when Sergio Gamberini, founder of Ocean Reef Group, came up with a funky idea, trying to combine two of his passions: scuba diving and gardening. The first experiment was conducted in the summer of 2012, with a very small biosphere anchored to the bottom of the sea. Here we planted green basil and managed to grow a good crop! This structure was still too small for agrinauts to get inside.
In the summer of 2013, the underwater farm was expanded with two 800-liter polythene biospheres. These larger structures were big enough for agrinauts to get inside, so that they could follow the basil's growth till harvest. Analysis conducted by private research institute CeRSAA on our underwater basil showed that it had the same taste of the land-grown one, but the leaves contained more essential oils than the standard crop: 72.94% vs 57.13%. Further investigations in this respect are still in progress.
In the summer of 2014, we decided to push the envelope with our research and take our project one step further! In addition to the already existing 800-liter biospheres, a bigger, 2,000-liter biosphere was designed and installed underwater. This expansion helped us get a better understanding of the engineering aspects of our project. In addition, we started growing a different kind of crop: salad.
At the end of the farming season, we tasted a delicious Nemo Pesto sauce made with our own basil and a big, leafy bowl of salad! Certainly, the first scuba salad ever.
During 2015, the number of people involved in this project on a voluntary basis increased and the underwater habitat grew bigger and bigger. By this time, Nemo's Garden was composed of: four 800-liter biospheres, one 2,000-liter biosphere, two 50-liter biospheres and a 2,000-liter rigid biosphere. This was a very important year for our project, with an increase in the number of biospheres in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials and more than thirty new crops. We also experienced a sharp surge in media exposure, also driven by our participation in the Milan EXPO2015!
During the summer, we planted green basil, red basil, different types of salads (rocket, lettuce, rouge, green bowl), tomatoes, zucchini, beans, green peas, herbs (mint, oregano, sage, thyme, cilantro), flowers, aloe vera, mushrooms, and many other crops. Of course, we weren't always successful. In some cases, humidity was too high and growing conditions were not ideal, but generally things went very well. Chemical tests showed a high concentration of essential oils due to the pressurized environment, fastest growing conditions (provided humidity and air temperature are kept under control) and no negative effects from the lower sunlight radiation.
By the summer of 2016, a completely new underwater habitat had been created. Five rigid 2-meter (80-inch) wide biospheres made of acrylic, with a capacity of approximately 2,000 liters, anchored to the bottom of the sea by 28 chains. In the middle of the area, the TREE OF THE LIFE was erected: a 3.5-meter (11.50 ft.) high metal structure weighing approximately half a ton and symbolizing evolution and a strive for the future and technological innovation.
This year, our goals were: to validate the previous year's data, to engineer hydroponic cultivation techniques for underwater biospheres and to experiment with growing plants for cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications. The technological improvements we devised also made new developments possible for Nemo's Garden: not only as underwater greenhouses, but also as pressurized underwater labs, underwater observatories and tourist attractions. Also, for the first time in Nemo's Garden's history we had the chance to keep the project running during the winter. Incoming swells and harsh weather conditions were some of the challenges we had to overcome.
In 2017, we worked on expanding our underwater farm by adding one more biosphere, intended to be used as an observatory for studies related to fresh water collection and production.
As we already said, the biosphere is a closed system where, due to the difference in temperature between the air inside it and the seawater, the latter may evaporate and condense on the internal surface. This water, containing no nutrients, can be used for irrigation after a suitable amount of fertilizer is added. Different solutions have been devised to collect fresh water and re-use it for our crops. Also, this year we used hydroponics as a growing method, which allowed us to harvest a considerable amount of vegetables.
The 2018 season was all about optimization of the system and the technology, together with the maximization of the fresh water production. To achieve these goals we built condensers to increase the quantity of fresh water produced by the system every day.
New horizontal hydroponic systems were installed in combination with the vertical one. Placed on the shelves inside each biospheres, this new setup gave us the chance to grow up to 90 plants per biosphere.
Plants grown during the season: Basil, Thymes, Sage, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Liquorice, Black Cumin, Marjoram, Tagete, Tomatoes, Strawberries, Lavender, Calendula, Stevia, Escoltia californica, Aloe vera, Lettuce, Passion flowers, Prunella, Radish. Some of them for the first time.
Unfortunately some of these plants were still underwater during the Autumn when the biggest storm ever recorded in the Medirranean sea occurred (10 mt wave @12 sec ). The biospheres lasted, but the level of the sea water inside rose up destroying plants, technology, cables. On land facilities and ports along the Ligurian coastline reported major damages.
Accepting failures is never easy, especially if you think at all the energies and resources devoted to this project. However, the passion we have for what we do is so deep we will not give up . It’s time to roll up the sleeves and renew the habitat.
This year started off with a huge work undertaken by the team not just to re-establish the habitat, but to make it even stronger and more auto-sustainable than ever.
We increased the number of solar panels to power up the habitat, tested a new coating treatment aimed to preserve the transparency of the biospheres decreasing the underwater operations.
More condensers have been built in order to provide all the water needed for the 100+ plants per biosphere.
A new collaboration with the University of Engineering in Genova has been set up in order to conduct studies on thermo dynamic inside the biosphere.
To support thesis students researches/internships we have started a fund raising action through a new Nemo’s Garden eco-friendly gadgets line.
If you wish to support the project Click here and check out the line.
A good action both for the research and for the environment.
While the corrections made to guarantee even more resilience of the habitat to storms proved to be optimal, an unforeseeable event hit the project, the team and unfortunately the whole World. As the COVID19 pandemic unfolded, with Italy as one of the first countries to be hit, the work of the OceanReefGroup team at Nemo's was forced to a hard stop. Traveling outside of the Company was forbidden until summer and the habitat was left to fend for itself, unguarded.
But life is stronger than anything - the habitat survived, basically undamaged, proving that the structure is durable and reliable.
The divers were finally able to complete set up for the summer with 2 months of delay - gathering research data was almost impossible, so, we were left to grow our beloved plants as a "normal" garden, succeeding once again and experimenting a few new stabilisations in our setup.
The habitat was then, once again, reduced to 3 biospheres for the winter season.
During the end of 2020, while COVID still was making things hard for us to schedule maintenance and visits, Nemo's Garden withheld easily multiple storms, making it the most successful winter in terms of plant-growing, to date!
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