Agriculture on land is in crisis. Climate change, population increases, soil pollution threaten cultivation. It is estimated that we must cultivate 70% more food by 2050 in order to accommodate the sustenance needs of an estimated two billion more people on our planet. Sadly, the total farmable land is decreasing every day. It is necessary to come up with new innovations that will replace soil-based farming. A promising idea is underwater farming or ocean farms. Though ocean farms need minimal capital costs and minimal skill to manage, the potential of these farms is tremendous. Small ocean farms that are about the size of Washington State can feed the world. These farms are extremely eco-friendly as sea crops capture five times the amount of carbon as land plants and trees. Read on to find out more about this sustainable and pesticide-free farming method.
Source: Random Times
The major need for underwater farming is to enhance agricultural efforts in places where land-based farming is difficult due to economical, geographical, or natural constraints. Underwater farming allows the cultivation of crops in specially designed clusters of balloon-like pods, which are fixed to the seabed using ropes. Nemo’s Garden uses these underwater biospheres or pods to grow different types of edible plants. The pods are engineered in such a way that seawater within the pod evaporates, condenses on the ceiling, and then drips down as freshwater. This waters the plants growing in the pod. The pods have a dome-like design. Only the bottom part is placed in the sea. Fertilizers, if required, are given to the crops by scuba divers. They are submerged 5–8 meters below the sea surface, so that sunlight can reach the pod. This also helps in providing the optimal temperature for plant growth.
Underwater farming in pods is completely self-sustainable. No pests can attack the crops nor can a disease be spread to the crops by the wind. This means there is no need for harmful pesticides and thereby, no risk of chemical contamination. Crops can also be grown in these pods using hydroponic technology. Freshwater is made available through desalination. A wide variety of herbs and crops like basil, lettuce, and strawberries have been successfully grown within these pods. However, this method is still being tested out, more research and adjustments have to be made to make it suitable for commercial cultivation.
Why it Works
Unlike typical underground hydroponic systems and greenhouses that depend on several heating/cooling systems and LED lights to optimize the temperature. Underwater farming provides a stable temperature for crops without the influence of manual interventions. The crops are also not exposed to extreme weather conditions common on land. When it comes to sunlight, a majority of plants excluding seaweed are mostly reliant on the red spectrum present in light of physiological development. Since the red spectrum can reach out to ocean depths up to around five to fifteen meters, the pods are immersed only up to five to eight meters below the sea surface. They have the potential to go deeper but more data is needed to work out the possibility of this.
Restorative 3D Ocean Farms
Source: The Kid Should See This
The Thimble Island Ocean Farm’s 3D ocean farming structure consists of an underwater rope system that is anchored to the floor. The ropes reach up all the way to the surface vertically and are also tied horizontally. Farmers cultivate their crops like kelp, also known as the “soy of the sea” within this structure. Mussels, scallops, and oysters are raised on the floor, while plants like seaweed and sea cucumbers are grown in the mud underwater.
Source: The Nature Conservancy
More technological innovations are required to measure the ecosystem services, increase yields, and create standardized income streams for farmers who wish to embrace ocean farming. Companies are trying to embed sensors and innovate underwater drones on farms to observe crops. This eliminates the need for divers, checking in on plants frequently. One such drone is Trident, which was engineered by Open Source Remotely Operated Vehicles (OpenROV). The ideology of underwater farming is expected to become commercialized over the next few decades. However, there are certain problems to fix first. At present, professional scuba divers are required to examine and fix issues in the underwater pods. This has led to increased expenses, health, and safety concerns for those involved. The scalability of underwater farming is also questionable. On the other hand, sea-grown crops such as seaweed, sea beet, and sea kale are gaining popularity amongst restaurants around the globe. Seaweed is both eco-friendly and healthy. It tastes good and is a rich source of iodine. With customers’ demands for sea-grown crops and the on-going research to make underwater farming being aligned. We can expect underwater farming to become mainstream soon