How Farming Under The Sea Is Changing The World
June 29, 2018
One of my favorite movies as a kid was Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Before launching into a super catchy tune, Sebastian the crab tells his mermaid friend Ariel, “The human world, it’s a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they got up there.”
What a visionary that crab was. Of course, there are many reasons for why he was right. But for this blog’s purposes, we’ll focus on one of our rapidly depleting natural resources: land.
We depend heavily on agriculture because that’s how we get our food. Today, 11% of the world’s land is used for crop production, which is about the size of Canada and the United States put together. That doesn’t even take into account the fields used to feed livestock. With the world population expected to hit 9.7 billion by the year 2050, we can no doubt expect to see more of our land disappear.
Looking For Other Ways
Is there any way around this? There are wonderful initiatives popping up all over the world, such as rooftop greenhouses and container farming. Another exciting and revolutionary model being introduced is underwater farming.
Under The Sea
Completely different from aquaponics, this method actually grows food below the ocean’s surface. Take Thimble Island Ocean Farm in Stony Creek, Connecticut, for example. Owner Bren Smith is a pioneer in 3D farming, growing sugar kelp, oysters, clams and scallops beneath the water. In fact, Smith tells Popular Science he can feed the world with an area the size of Washington State. No land, no soil, and no chemicals; just water.
His system is vertical, so he grows his kelp and seafood in water columns that hang from a line. Smith says in a 300 ft x 300 ft area, he can grow up to 26 tons of kelp in five months. His farm counters the destruction caused by traditional agricultural practices; the kelp he’s growing drinks up nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon pollution that leaks into the water, providing sanctuaries for crab, shrimp, and so many other marine species.
Besides growing healthy food, Smith is also helping clean up the mess we’ve made of the oceans. I can’t help but like this guy.
The problem is not everybody likes to eat kelp; seaweed has an acquired taste. But in order to feed future populations, we have to change both the way we eat and the way we grow. Crickets might one day replace cattle, so I’m sure there’s room somewhere for a lot of kelp in our diets. Thimble Island Ocean Farm has recruited celebrity chefs to make kelp sexy; think kelp pasta, kelp ice cream, and kelp cocktails. Yum!
Smith says underwater farming is well within reach for many people; $30,000, a boat and about 20 acres of the ocean can get you your own 3D farm. He’s even founded a non-profit called GreenWave that trains future ocean farmers and helps them get financial grants.
Near Savona, Italy, something similar is happening. Nemo’s Garden sits below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea and seeks to alleviate the pressure on the world’s soil while also protecting crops from changing climates. The garden started in 2013 as an experiment with a father and son team wanting to save their produce from the cold.
The garden is comprised of five air-filled biospheres which are anchored to the bottom of the sea and cover about 100 m2. Each biosphere is equipped with webcams, as well as sensors for CO2, O2, humidity, temperature, and lighting. The sunlight penetrates the inner part of the dome, making the air inside the biospheres significantly warmer than the water itself. With stable climatic conditions, fresh herbs, lettuces, tomatoes, zucchini, beans and green peas grow beautifully in Nemo’s Garden via hydroponics.
Gardening this way involves wearing scuba gear; when a diver enters the biosphere, half of their body remains in the water. How refreshing! Not only that; it’s completely bug-free. That’s something many gardeners can only dream of. Best of all, this underwater farm is eco-friendly and self-sustainable.
Sebastian the crab might have been right; are things really better down where it’s wetter?
Featured image courtesy of Nemo’s Garden.