Underwater Farming: The Future?

Underwater Farming: The Future?

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Currently, agriculture provides most of the foods and fabrics in the world (McDaniel et al., 2022). It has also been found that 30 crops provide 95% of human food energy needs and that 60% of our food needs are met by only four crops: potato, maize (corn), rice and wheat (Cruz-Garcia & Visser, 2022). The maintenance of the demand for these four crops comes from the farming practice of monoculture, which can negatively impact the environment by degrading the soil and reducing the availability of nutrients, even though there are relatives to these crops that are more productive and resistant (Food Insight, 2019; Balogh, 2021). Although we heavily rely on agriculture, the industry is one of the most environmentally harmful due to its contributions to air and water pollution through pesticides, fertilizers and other toxic chemicals, water consumption, and deforestation for agriculture expansion (World Wildlife Fund, 2023). A new possible alternative to agriculture and crop farming is underwater farming.

There are various types of underwater farming, including seaweed farming and underwater gardens. Seaweed farming entails growing and harvesting seaweed underwater and is primarily practiced in Asia, specifically in China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan (Buschmann et al., 2017). This practice is more sustainable than traditional farming as it does not require pesticides, fertilizers, land or freshwater to produce (Stagner, 2020). Moreover, research has found that seaweed is very nutritious and has the potential as a superfood to give the required nutrients to millions of people and can be used as a building block for plastics, diesel and fibre (Sustainable Brands Staff, 2023). Seaweed also soaks up carbon dioxide, as it uses it to grow, and nitrogen and phosphorus, helping with ocean acidification and reducing climate change (NOAA Fisheries, 2020). Outside of the countries where this has been consistently practiced, companies in North America, India and Namibia continue to explore sustainable underwater agriculture centred around seaweed farming (Marchant, 2021).

Moreover, underwater gardens are a new type of innovation that can potentially replace or at least serve as a substitute for traditional farming. Underwater gardens are currently being championed by Nemo’s Garden, which started in 2012 (Cohan, 2023). They first began with planting basil underwater using transparent biospheres filled with air 20 feet below the surface (Cohan, 2023). They use hydroponics, a technique commonly issued in indoor vertical farms that replaces soil with water-based nutrients and supplemental growing lights when there is insufficient sunlight (Cohan, 2023). Since its start ten years ago, Nemo’s Garden has successfully produced many herbs like oregano, thyme, mint and sage, seeds like beans and peas and fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, strawberries and lettuce (Waycott, 2021). Their system is almost entirely sustainable and self-sufficient, as once the biospheres are set up, little human intervention is necessary (Waycott, 2021). The biosphere keeps pests away from the growing plants, the ocean’s warmth creates a constant temperature for growth, and the humidity inside the spheres provides the plants with salt-free fresh water (Waycott, 2021).

As a complete replacement for traditional farming, underwater farming and seaweed still seem far-fetched and futuristic. There is heavy reliance worldwide on agriculture for food and jobs that may not be able to be replaced by using the ocean. However, the United Nations does estimate that the world could be fed using only 2% of the ocean, so it is a viable solution if necessary (United Nations, 2020). While small farms produce around 30% of the world’s crops, they are not the problem as they use more sustainable practices (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2021). The main problem is industrial farming which contributes to pollution. Until then, sustainable farming methods practiced by Indigenous farmers, like polyculture and planting “The Three Sisters,” should be the mainstream practices while the underwater farming industry continues to grow.

Sources

Balogh, A. (2021, December 13). The rise and fall of monoculture farming. Horizon Magazine. https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/rise-and-fall-monoculture-farming

Buschmann, A. H., Camus, C., Infante, J., Neori, A., Israel, Á., Hernández-González, M. C., Pereda, S. V., Gomez-Pinchetti, J. L., Golberg, A., Tadmor-Shalev, N., & Critchley, A. T. (2017). Seaweed production: overview of the global state of exploitation, farming and emerging research activity. European Journal of Phycology52(4), 391–406. https://doi.org/10.1080/09670262.2017.1365175

Cohan, M. (2023, April 27). Nemo’s Garden: The future of farming could be under the sea. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/nemos-garden-underwater-farm-italy-spc-intl/index.html

Cruz-Garcia, G., & Visser, B. (2022, May 25). Plant biodiversity is key to ensuring farmers’ food and nutrition security in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Oxfam International. https://www.oxfam.org/en/blogs/plant-biodiversity-key-ensuring-farmers-food-and-nutrition-security-response-covid-19-crisis

Food and Agriculture Organization. (2021, April 23). Small family farmers produce a third of the world’s food. Fao.org. https://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1395127/icode/

Food Insight. (2019, December 11). Biodiversity 101 –. Food Insight. https://foodinsight.org/biodiversity-101/

Marchant, N. (2021, July 15). What are underwater farms? And how do they work? World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/07/underwater-farms-sustainable/

McDaniel, M., Teng, S., Sprout, E., Costa, H., Hall, H., Hunt, J., Boudreau, D., Ramroop, T., & Rutledge, K. (2022, July 27). The art and science of agriculture. Nationalgeographic.org. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/agriculture/

NOAA Fisheries. (2020, September 28). Seaweed aquaculture. NOAA. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/aquaculture/seaweed-aquaculture

Stagner, U. (2020, November 14). A deep dive into Zero Hunger: the seaweed revolution. UN News. https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/11/1077212

Sustainable Brands Staff. (2023, January 27). Farming more seaweed could be sustainable way forward for food, feed, fuel. Sustainable Brands. https://sustainablebrands.com/read/defining-the-next-economy/farming-seaweed-sustainable-food-feed-fuel

United Nations. (2020, November 14). A deep dive into Zero Hunger: the seaweed revolution. UN News. https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/11/1077212

Waycott, B. (2021, December 13). 20,000 lettuces under the sea: Could underwater agriculture be the future of farming? Global Seafood Alliance. https://www.globalseafood.org/advocate/20000-lettuces-under-the-sea-could-underwater-agriculture-be-the-future-of-farming/

World Wildlife Fund. (2023). Sustainable agriculture. World Wildlife Fund. https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/sustainable-agriculture

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