Ocean Plastics

Deepest submarine dive reveals plastic debris at the ocean floor

written by Oceanographic Staff

Victor Vescovo, an American explorer and retired naval officer, and his team at Five Deeps Expedition have successfully completed the world’s deepest dive.

They made the descent to Challenger Deep within the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean, which is commonly known as the deepest point on Earth. The Five Deeps Expedition descent, which was being filmed for a five-part Discovery Channel documentary series, reached a depth of 10,928 metres, which is 16 metres deeper than any previous manned dive.

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The team has made four dives into the Mariana Trench in the last three weeks, collecting biological and rock samples on board submarine Limiting Factor. Their expedition was the third time humans have dived to the Challenger Deep. Prior to Vescovo, James Cameron made a descent to 10,908 metres in 2012, while the U.S. Navy reached a depth of 10,912 metres in 1960.

“It is almost indescribable how excited all of us are about achieving what we just did,” said Vescovo after arriving in Guam after the completion of the dives. “This submarine and its mother ship, along with its extraordinarily talented expedition team, took marine technology to an unprecedented new level by diving – rapidly and repeatedly – into the deepest, harshest area of the ocean. We feel like we have just created, validated, and opened a powerful door to discover and visit any place, any time, in the ocean – which is 90% unexplored.”

It is believed that at least three new species were discovered on the expedition, one of which was an amphipod for oddly long appendages, but the team also found a sinister reminder of just how serious the negative impact we’ve had on the planet. A plastic bag and sweet wrappers were found on the ocean floor. “It was very disappointing to see obvious human contamination of the deepest point in the ocean,” Vescovo told Reuters. “It’s not a big garbage collection pool, even though it’s treated as such.”

Vescovo hopes that his discovery litter penetrating this deep in the ocean would raise some awareness regarding ocean plastics and put more pressure on governments to take more drastic action to combat the problem.

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Not only has Vescovo made the deepest dive in history, but also the first individual to dive the Challenger Deep twice. He’s made the greatest number of solo dives to below 7,000 metres and has now visited four of the world’s five ocean bottoms.

On board the expedition ship Pressure Drop for this historic accomplishment was legendary American oceanographer, explorer and marine policy specialist, Dr. Don Walsh, who made the first successful decent into the Mariana Trench in 1960. “Victor Vescovo’s imagination and fierce curiosity; Triton Submarines technical brilliance, and the outstanding performance of the officers and crew of mother ship Pressure Drop all converged to make this expedition a huge success,” he said. “This time it was an impressive tour de force as the team repeated the Challenger Deep dive four times in just eight days. This was a demonstration of system reliability and operational efficiency never seen before in exploration of the oceans’ deepest places. I was proud and honoured to have been invited to be part of Victor’s team when it made world history at Challenger Deep.”

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The missions were carried out using the Triton 36,000/2 (LF) and the voyage to the Mariana Trench was managed by EYOS Expeditions. “This vehicle is effectively a reliable elevator that can transport us to any depth, in any ocean,” said Rob McCallum of EYOS Expeditions. “During this expedition we have traversed over 110 vertical kilometres and proved the capabilities of a vehicle that will be a platform for science, film making and exploration of Earths hidden recesses.”

In the coming months, the Five Deeps Expedition will head to the Horizon Deep within the Tonga Trench in the South Pacific Ocean, where the team plans to find out whether the Tonga Trench really is the second deepest in the Pacific or if it is in fact deeper than the Mariana Trench. In August 2019, the team looks to take them to the bottom of the as-yet unexplored Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean. They have already completed dives to the bottom of the Atlantic, Southern and Indian Oceans.

Photographs courtesy of: Tamara Stubbs, Reeve Jolliffe and Atlantic Productions for Discovery Channel.

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