Underwater Greenhouse
June 30, 2015

Nemo's garden off Italy offers hope for seabed crops

Olivier Morin & Angus Mackinnon

In the homeland of pesto, a group of diving enthusiasts have come up with a way of growing basil beneath the sea that could revolutionise crop production in arid coastal areas around the world...

A diving nut and specialist in under-water communications, Gamberini has begun growing basil in large plastic spheres anchored to the sea bed 100 metres off shore and eight metres below the surface in an experiment he has dubbed "Nemo's garden".

"The idea came to me because I wanted to create more interaction between the surface and the diving activity," Gamberini told AFPTV.

Having started with a simple plastic ball into which he place a tub with herb seeds planted in compost, he is now in his fourth season of production from an under-water garden comprised of three "biospheres" which he is allowed to keep in the water for three months a year.

"I chose a typical activity of farmers, and I said 'why not bring it under water?'" he said. "I realised that there was an opportunity to create a new site to grow vegetables."

Evaporation ensures humidity between 80 and 90 percent inside the spheres, the condensation provides the necessary moisture and, even well below the waves, there is enough light in this sunny corner of Europe to ensure the plants themselves regenerate their oxygen supply via photosynthesis.

Having proved the system works, Gamberini's challenge now is to prove that it can produce herbs and vegetables in a cost-efficient way.

"I don't know if it will be the future because we have to prove that it can be self-supportable," he said. "If a pound of lettuce (grown underwater) costs too much, it won't have a future."

Parasite-free zone

The primary advantage of underwater growing is the stability of thermal conditions.

"The sea maintains the temperature without a great difference between day and night," said Gianni Fontanesi, who is in charge of running the project.

In late June, at the start of the European summer, the water on the coastal shelf of the northern Mediterranean is 25 degrees C (77 degrees F), while inside the spheres the temperature reaches 29 degrees C

The plants are thriving in an environment where they are protected from the insects and parasites that would normally be giving a basil grower headaches at this time of year.

The results so far have have been encouraging, with the spheres producing more densely-leafed plants than is usual—perfect for being ground up with pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil to produce authentic Ligurian pesto.

An experiment with lettuce is already underway and mushrooms, tomatoes, tomatoes and green beans will all be given a go this summer.

"In the longer term, this could be a solution for arid regions next to the sea," said Gamberini, who admits there is still much work to be done to work out how to apply his principles on a larger scale.

But he is not the only one to have faith in his idea: under-water basil was one of the 20 food-related innovations chosen to represent Italy at the ongoing World Expo in Milan which has "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life" as its theme.

Nemo's Garden Official Video Pitch


[0001] The present invention refers to a greenhouse for the underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species as well as to an underwater cultivation assembly using it. In terms of temperature and sun exposure, the underwater environment is particularly advantageous for cultivating terrestrial plant species that require a shaded environment and low temperature ranges for there to be an optimal growth.

[0002] Indeed, already at medium depths there are temperatures that are substantially stable over the twenty-four hours and the sun is filtered by the layer of water above.

[0003] There has thus been the requirement of creating a greenhouse, that could be implanted in an underwater environment, which could make it possible to cultivate terrestrial plant species, despite the absence, under water, of a form of oxygen and carbon dioxide that they can assimilate.

[0004] Correspondingly, it has become a requirement to make an underwater cultivation assembly that can make it possible to transport seedbeds from and towards the underwater greenhouse, in a manner that is isolated from the underwater environment.

[0005] The purpose of the present invention is thus that of conceiving a greenhouse for the underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species that can be easily installed and accessed in an underwater environment. Another purpose of the present invention is that of providing a greenhouse for the underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species that ensures a sufficient provision of elements that are essential for the correct development of the cultivations, substantially without human intervention.

[0006] A further purpose of the present invention is that of making an underwater cultivation assembly that ensures that there is no contact of the cultivations with the surrounding water both during the seeding and the harvesting of the cultivations, and during the development thereof.

[0007] These and other purposes according to the present invention are achieved by making a greenhouse for the underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species as outlined in claim 1.

[0008] Further characteristics of the greenhouse are object of the dependent claims.

[0009] The characteristics and the advantages of a greenhouse for the underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species according to the present invention shall become clearer from the following description, given as an example and not for limiting purposes, with reference to the attached schematic drawings, in which:

[0010] FIG. 1 is a schematic view in side elevation of the greenhouse for the underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species according to the present invention;

[0011] FIG. 2 is a schematic view in side elevation of the first vent valve of the greenhouse of FIG. 1 in an exploded configuration;

[0012] FIG. 3 is a partial schematic view illustrating the operation of the second adjustment valve of the greenhouse of FIG. 1;

[0013] FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a detail inside the greenhouse of FIG. 1;

[0014] FIG. 5 is a perspective view of a water-tight container used associated with the greenhouse for the underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species according to the present invention.

[0015] With reference to the figures, a greenhouse for the underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species is wholly shown with reference numeral 10.

[0016] The greenhouse 10 for the underwater cultivation comprises a balloon 11 that is suitable for being filled with air in an underwater environment 50, fitted with an aperture 12 for lower access and made from material that is impermeable to water and permeable to light.

[0017] By balloon 11 we mean any hollow body that can be filled with aria in an underwater environment 50.

[0018] In the preferred embodiment illustrated, the balloon is made of flexible material.

[0019] In such an embodiment the balloon preferably comprises, at the aperture for lower access and perimetrically thereto, a rigid ring element 13 that is suitable for counteracting the collapse/sagging or the bending of the flexible material in such an area.

[0020] The rigid ring element 13 makes it possible to maintain the inlet symmetry of the balloon, reducing its possible deformation.

[0021] In such a way, an underwater worker 55 can more easily enter and exit the balloon.

[0022] Such a ring element 13 moreover acts as a support point for possible additional accessories.

[0023] The balloon 11 moreover comprises means for restraining 14 to the floor of the aquatic basin 51, such as for example a plurality of cables 14 a that are connected below to special anchors 14 b or ballast weights.

[0024] In particular, the anchors 14 b can be made in the form of rods comprising an eyelet 14 b' at one end, for connecting to the cables and, at the other end, a rotary auger 14 b? for driving into sandy, muddy or in any case non rocky seabeds.

[0025] The restraint means 14 must guarantee an anchoring that is capable of fully counteracting the hydrostatic thrust due to the weight of the volume of the water moved by the balloon filled with air. For example, in the case in which the volume of water moved is equal to 100 l, the restraint means must be capable of guaranteeing at least 150 kg of traction.

[0026] The balloon 11, on the top opposite with respect to its own aperture for lower access, comprises a first vent valve 15 for releasing the air inside the balloon.

[0027] Such a first vent valve 15 comprises a circular base body 15 a integrated in the surface of the balloon 11, at an upper aperture thereof, for example through welding.

[0028] The base valve body 15 a is fitted with a threaded portion for joining to a threaded cylindrical closing element 15 b, fitted with a lateral through hole 15 c.

[0029] The progressive screwing of the closing element 15 b on the base valve body 15 a adjusts the lateral through hole portion 15 c placed in direct contact with the external environment and therefore the dimensions of the connection passage between the external environment and the inside of the balloon 11.

[0030] The closing element 15 b has an upper cover 15 d that is suitable for closing the internal channel of the cylindrical closing element 15 b with respect to the external environment.

[0031] Preferably, the upper cover 15 d is removable so as to allow a rapid emptying of the air contained inside the balloon 11.

[0032] At the open lower portion of the balloon, integrated in its surface, it is foreseen for there to be a second valve 16 for adjusting the level 52 of the water-air interface inside the balloon 11.

[0033] Through such a second valve it is possible to prevent an excessive filling of air inside of the balloon 11 with the consequent risk of it lifting from the floor 51 and/or the tearing/breaking thereof 11.

[0034] The second valve 16 comprises an L-shaped tubular element which, as shown in FIG. 3, can rotate, defining the possible maximum air filling levels, for example as a function of the distance which is desired to be kept between the seedbeds and the water-air interface 52.

[0035] In particular, if the tubular element is positioned horizontally, the balloon is filled with less air, whereas if it is positioned vertically downwards, it is filled with more air.

[0036] In other words, the length of the sector of the tubular element 16 parallel to the axis A of the aperture 12 for lower access of the balloon 11 makes it possible to determine the height of the air-water interface 52.

[0037] Such a second valve 16 is essential in order to allow an underwater worker 55 to operate inside the balloon 11: it limits the amount of air contained inside the balloon 11, preventing the air exhaled by an underwater worker 55 from filling the balloon 11 until it is broken or detached from the floor 51.

[0038] The balloon 11 internally comprises at least one support shelf 17.

[0039] In the preferred embodiment illustrated, it is foreseen for there to be a plurality of shelves 17 that are positioned perimetrically with respect to the surface inside the balloon 11 at a height that is greater with respect to the second valve 16 therefore, in the operative configuration, above the air-water interface 52.

[0040] Such shelves 17 act as supports for housing seedbeds 53, made for example in the form of a tray or vase, and/or for housing runoff drains (not illustrated). Preferably, as shown in FIG. 4, the support shelves 17 are made in flexible material in the form of a pocket with dimensions that match the seedbeds 53 and/or the runoff drains, so that these can be blocked therein 17 through shape coupling.

[0041] Preferably, the runoff drains are positioned at a perforated shelf (not illustrated) so as to allow the draining of liquids.

[0042] The runoff drains positioned on a shelf constitute a so called “technical area” that acts as a support for the insertion/extraction operations of the seedbeds in/from special water-tight transport containers 20 described in the rest of the description.

[0043] For the purpose of transporting the seedbeds 53 from and toward the greenhouse 10 in an isolated manner with respect to the surrounding underwater environment 50, it is foreseen for at least one special water-tight container 20 to be used in association with the greenhouse 10 according to the present invention so as to form an underwater cultivation assembly according to the present invention.

[0044] The water-tight container 20 comprises a box-shaped body 21 that is fitted with a cover 22 at least partially removable and with an interface 23 for connecting to underwater immersion equipment, like for example a quick coupling that can be connected to a second dispenser stage.

[0045] According to one advantageous embodiment, the water-tight container 20 has ballast weights so as to ensure a slight positivity in transportation. Basically, as a function of the transportation volume defined inside the water-tight container 20, a ballast weight is selected that, in free underwater conditions, allows it to rise softly to the surface.

[0046] Preferably, the greenhouse 10 for underwater cultivation is provided with an underwater communication system that is inserted in a special pocket obtained on the outside of the balloon (not illustrated).

[0047] Such a communication system preferably comprises a microphone and an internal speaker (not illustrated). The underwater communication system can be of the ultrasound type or, as an alternative, of the cable type.

[0048] In an even more preferable manner, the greenhouse for underwater cultivation is provided with a water-tight lighting system of the solar powered type (not illustrated).

[0049] The operation of the greenhouse and of the assembly for the underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species is as follows.

[0050] An underwater worker 55 positions the restraint means 14 on the floor 51 of the aquatic basin 50 so as to anchor the balloon 11 at the selected depth.

[0051] Subsequently, the underwater worker 51 transports the balloon 11 by hand to the positioning area, anchors it 11 to the floor 51, connecting it to the restraint means 14, and fills the balloon 11 with air, introducing it through the aperture 12 for lower access thereof 11.

[0052] The amount of air that the worker introduces is at least such as to bring the shelves 17 inside the balloon 11 above the water-air interface 52. In particular, the filling of the balloon with air occurs until the water-air interface 52 has reached the height at which the second valve 16 is positioned.

[0053] At least one seedbed 53 is thus prepared at the surface and is placed in a water-tight container 20.

[0054] The water-tight container 20 is subsequently sealed and transported underwater connected to an underwater immersion equipment so as to compensate for the increase in hydrostatic pressure during the descent. For such a purpose, the underwater worker 55 manually insufflates air inside the water-tight container 20 through the underwater immersion equipment and the connection interface 23 to it, thus counteracting the inward bending of the walls thereof 20 and facilitating the subsequent aperture of the container 20. On the other hand, in the case in which there is excessive difference in pressure between inside the container 20 and the surrounding environment, it could only open with extreme difficulty.

[0055] Once the greenhouse 10 has been reached, the water-tight container 20 is inserted inside the balloon 11 through the aperture 12 for lower access and rested on the runoff drains at the technical area.

[0056] The seedbed 53 is then extracted and positioned on a shelf 17 in the destination area.

[0057] Once the cultivation is finished, a water-tight transport container 20 of the same type is used to bring the seedbeds 53 back to the surface together with the crops or the harvest, according to whether the harvest takes place in the underwater greenhouse 10 or at the surface.

[0058] During the transportation to the surface, the pressure in excess that is generated due to air expansion is discharged through the connection interface 23 of the container 20 to the underwater immersion equipment.

[0059] From the description made the characteristics of the greenhouse and of the assembly for underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species object of the present invention should be clear, just as the relative advantages should also be clear.

[0060] The Applicant has found that the growing environment that is created in the underwater greenhouse is capable of sustaining itself substantially independently from human intervention.

[0061] Indeed, the chlorophyll photosynthesis cycle carried out by the elements present in the greenhouse make it superfluous to reintegrate with oxygen and/or with carbon dioxide the atmosphere inside the balloon for the entire growth period of the seeds.

[0062] Moreover, thanks to the air/water interface present at the aperture for lower access of the balloon, the atmosphere inside the greenhouse is highly humid, leading to the creation of fresh water condensation on the inner walls of the balloon which is collected on the shelves and therefore in the seedbeds, making it superfluous to irrigate the crops.

[0063] This is also facilitated by the possibility of sufficiently limiting the dehydration of the crops, by positioning the greenhouse at the most suitable depth, and therefore selecting the light frequencies to which to expose the cultivations, filtered by the absorption of the water column above.

[0064] Advantageously, the temperature of the bubble is kept essentially constant due to thermal hysteresis of the surrounding water that reduces the temperature range to which the crops are subjected with respect to the cultivations on the surface.

[0065] Finally, the isolated environment inside the greenhouse makes it highly improbable for the crops to become contaminated by microorganisms such as for example parasites.

[0066] Last but not least, the water-tight container used in association with the greenhouse for underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species according to the present invention also makes it possible to transport the seeds and the harvest from and towards the greenhouse without being contaminated with the surrounding underwater environment.

[0067] It is indeed clear that the greenhouse and the assembly for underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species thus conceived can undergo numerous modifications and variants, all covered by the invention; moreover, all the details can be replaced by technically equivalent elements. In practice the materials used, as well as the dimensions, can be any according to the technical requirements.

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