Underwater Farms Could Truly Be the Future of Commercial Agriculture

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Oct. 7 2020, Updated 11:52 a.m. ET

The commercial farming industry has proven to be completely unsustainable on a global scale. Not only does it require harmful pesticides to produce fertilizer and create emissions with livestock (who are often mistreated), it also wastes millions of gallons of water per year, leads to massive amounts of deforestation, and oftentimes, employees aren't paid ethically. However, new technology is making way for a brand new way to farm, that takes place under the ocean's surface. 

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"These are the rainforests of the ocean, just soaking up sunlight, carbon, nitrogen to grow. so the more of these crops we grow, the better off we are," said GreenWave's Executive Director Bren Smith. "One of the key reasons we're going to be farming the ocean is that our climate change is pushing our food system out to sea."

vertical ocean farming
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What exactly is an underwater farm?

A sustainable farming technology company called GreenWave developed a new technique called vertical underwater farming, or regenerative ocean farming, which is comprised of undersea vertical ropes that grow different types of seaweed, according to Go Explorer. The seaweed is naturally fertilized by oysters and mussels which line the ropes, and by oyster and clam cages that the ocean floor. They're completely self-sufficient, and live off the surrounding water and sunlight.

These underwater ocean "farms" have a net-zero carbon footprint, and they are capable of growing 10 to 30 tons of sea vegetables per year. The company is willing to partner with any boat-owner with access to $20,000 to start their own undersea farm, and they currently have upwards of 15 different farms in the works, so environmentalists hope it could truly be the future of safe and ethical farming.

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"The beautiful thing about the ocean is you can grow zero-input food, you can grow food that takes no fresh water, no fertilizer, no feed, making it hands down the most sustainable form of food production on the planet" Smith said in a Mashable video about underwater vertical farming. "And not only that, the crops — the seaweeds, the shellfish breath life back into the ecosystems."

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Here's why we're down to ditch the land farming industry:

As previously mentioned, commercial farming utilizes toxic pesticides that bring irreparable harm to its surroundings. Using pesticides to enhance the growth of fruits and vegetables often contaminates its surrounding water, soil, air, and the produce itself, according to NCBI. This not only affects local animals and plants, but also nearby communities — especially farmworkers in developing countries — where commercial farms are common.

Underwater vertical farms also come with natural fertilizer by the mollusks that grow along the ropes, which means they don't require livestock to produce fertilizer. Raising livestock on a commercial scale is notoriously inhumane, and is also believed to be one of the leading causes of pandemics, because viral diseases generally run within livestock, spreading to humans within close proximity. Livestock farms also produce large amounts of methane, which is a major contributor to global warming.

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With that, farming on land is also one of the biggest culprits of water waste, according to Wired, as it wastes about 70 percent of the earth's supply. Meanwhile, it's also a leading cause of deforestation, contributing to 30 percent of deforestation in Africa and Asia, and almost 70 percent in Latin America, according to Global Forest Atlas. Undersea farming, however, requires no additional water or land space... and materials, for that matter.

agriculture industry
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While many of the negative affects are environmental, humans are also victims of factory farming. Many farms outsource their workers, often underpaying and overworking them. According to One Green Planet, labor laws are essentially ignored, and they generally tend to hire underage workers in other countries to maintain their farms for almost no pay. Undersea vertical farmers, however, will be working for themselves, and working on their own time.

Underwater vertical farms require few materials and very little maintenance, making them a leading contender for the next best farming technique. Honestly, we can totally get behind this.

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