As the global population continues to burgeon, the conventional model of industrialised farming faces profound environmental challenges. Decades of intensive agriculture have left an indelible mark on the planet, marked by a worrisome reliance on pesticides, habitat displacement, water wastage, and harmful emissions. However, an intriguing alternative is surfacing - underwater farming, which holds the potential to mitigate these issues while fostering sustainability.
The United Nations offers an intriguing proposition: a mere 2% of the world's oceans dedicated to sustainable underwater farming could feasibly provide for our planet's growing appetite. This burgeoning field aims to eliminate the need for pesticides, reduce water consumption, and cut carbon emissions. Could underwater crops, including strawberries and deep-sea herbs, offer a more environmentally-friendly alternative to conventional land-based agriculture?
Traditional industrial agriculture, once hailed as a panacea for global food security amid rapid population growth, now finds itself grappling with significant shortcomings. The environmental toll has been heavy, primarily through the overuse of pesticides, habitat disruption, profligate water consumption, and the release of detrimental emissions.
Embracing the Depths for Sustainable Farming
In response to these pressing concerns, scientists and entrepreneurs have turned their attention to underwater agriculture as a potential solution. This innovative approach involves cultivating crops beneath the ocean's surface, with the promise of reducing the reliance on pesticides, minimising water use, and curbing carbon emissions.
Remarkably, the United Nations posits that a mere 2% of our oceans could sustainably feed the entire world's population. This bold assertion underlines the immense potential of underwater agriculture. While aquaculture has long thrived in producing seafood, forward-thinking companies are now exploring ways to cultivate traditional crops underwater, such as strawberries and herbs.
One pioneering project, Nemo's Garden, utilises six air-filled plastic pods, or biospheres, anchored off the coast of Noli, Italy. These pods, suspended at depths ranging from 4.5 to 11 metres, are equipped with sensors to monitor various environmental factors. Employing hydroponic techniques, Nemo's Garden has successfully yielded a diverse array of crops, from tomatoes and beans to orchids and aloe vera plants. Hydroponics enables plants to grow without soil, instead utilising a nutrient-rich solution to nourish their roots within a controlled environment.
One distinct advantage of underwater farming is the absence of pests within these enclosed environments, obviating the need for pesticides. Additionally, the biospheres conserve water, with seawater evaporating and condensing to provide freshwater for the crops. External water sources are only necessary during the initial stages of plant growth.
Another noteworthy endeavour is the non-profit organisation GreenWave, based in North America. They have pioneered vertical underwater farming, a technique also known as regenerative ocean farming. This approach involves cultivating a variety of seaweed, including kelp, and shellfish like mussels and scallops on rope scaffolding submerged in the sea. Notably, this model requires no external inputs like water, fertiliser, or feed, while simultaneously aiding in the restoration of marine ecosystems. Moreover, seaweed absorbs CO2 from the ocean, reducing acidity and fostering marine biodiversity.
GreenWave's polyculture farming system boasts high yields with a minimal carbon footprint, presenting a feasible option for anyone with access to 20 acres, a boat, and an investment of $20,000 to $25,000 to commence their own underwater farm.
Seaweed's Potential in Sustainability
Kelp Blue, based in Namibia, has received environmental clearance to embark on underwater farming of seaweed crops. These crops serve multiple purposes, from fertilisers to textiles and pharmaceuticals. Kelp is renowned for its rapid growth and its ability to provide habitats for diverse marine species, while also acting as an efficient carbon sink. The company's goal is to capture millions of tons of CO2 annually by 2050.
Bangalore-based Sea6 Energy also focuses on seaweed, deploying a tractor-like vehicle called a 'SeaCombine' for seeding and harvesting tropical underwater plants. The produce not only serves as a gelling agent in food production but also finds applications in biofuel, bioplastics, and agriculture, among other industries.
Underwater agriculture is emerging as a promising avenue to address the environmental challenges posed by conventional farming practices. With its potential to eliminate pesticides, reduce water usage, and curb carbon emissions, underwater farming could be a vital component of sustainable agriculture in the future. As we navigate the complex challenges of feeding a growing global population, the depths of our oceans may hold the key to a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly approach to food production.