June 30, 2015
Nemo's garden off Italy offers hope
for seabed crops
by 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
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
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
"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."
The primary advantage of underwater growing is the stability of
"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
"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
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
 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.
GREENHOUSE FOR UNDERWATER CULTIVATION OF TERRESTRIAL PLANT
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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
 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.
 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.
 Further characteristics of the greenhouse are object of the
 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:
 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;
 FIG. 2 is a schematic view in side elevation of the
first vent valve of the greenhouse of FIG. 1 in an exploded
 FIG. 3 is a partial schematic view illustrating the
operation of the second adjustment valve of the greenhouse of
 FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a detail inside the
greenhouse of FIG. 1;
 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
 With reference to the figures, a greenhouse for the
underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species is wholly
shown with reference numeral 10.
 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.
 By balloon 11 we mean any hollow body that can be filled
with aria in an underwater environment 50.
 In the preferred embodiment illustrated, the balloon is
made of flexible material.
 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
 The rigid ring element 13 makes it possible to maintain the
inlet symmetry of the balloon, reducing its possible deformation.
 In such a way, an underwater worker 55 can more easily
enter and exit the balloon.
 Such a ring element 13 moreover acts as a support point for
possible additional accessories.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Preferably, the upper cover 15 d is removable so as to
allow a rapid emptying of the air contained inside the balloon 11.
 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
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 The balloon 11 internally comprises at least one support
 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
 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
 Preferably, the runoff drains are positioned at a
perforated shelf (not illustrated) so as to allow the draining of
 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
 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
 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.
 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.
 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
 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.
 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).
 The operation of the greenhouse and of the assembly for the
underwater cultivation of terrestrial plant species is as follows.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 At least one seedbed 53 is thus prepared at the surface and
is placed in a water-tight container 20.
 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.
 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.
 The seedbed 53 is then extracted and positioned on a shelf
17 in the destination area.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Finally, the isolated environment inside the greenhouse
makes it highly improbable for the crops to become contaminated by
microorganisms such as for example parasites.
 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.
 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
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