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Plastic trash found in deepest-ever dive highlights marine pollution crisis

Photo Credit: Tamara Stubbs
The expedition reaching a depth of 10,928m in Pacific Ocean collected mantle rock samples and also identified at least three new species of marine animal
by TR Pakistan

An American explorer has successfully dived to the deepest point on Earth at the bottom of Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench.

At the bottom of the ocean, Victor Vescovo spotted marine life as well as something completely unexpected — litter in the form of a plastic bag and candy wrappers, highlighting the depth of the crisis caused by human-induced contamination of marine environment.

A recent landmark report by the United Nations has already noted that more than half the marine environment has been altered by humans. Since 1980, plastic pollution has increased tenfold and 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters. Scientists are also conducting research into microplastics which are increasingly being found in marine life.

With his latest dive, Vescovo has set a new record, becoming the first deep-sea diver to make multiple dives solo. The expedition reached a maximum depth of 10,928 meters (m), 16m deeper than any previous manned dive.

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Four hours were spent exploring the bottom of the ocean floor. The dive focused on video surveying, and biological and geological sample collection in the trench by the submersible and its landers for scientific analysis. The deepest piece of mantle rock ever recovered from the surface of the western slope of the Mariana Trench was also collected.

The team has identified at least three new species of marine animal during this dive series, including a type of long-appendaged Amphipod.

In total, five dives were completed to the bottom of the Mariana Trench between April 28 and May 7, 2019. Two of the dives, including the deepest one made on April 28, were solo dives piloted by Vescovo.

This dive forms part of the Five Deeps Expedition, which aims to dive to the deepest points in all five oceans of the world. The Five Deeps Expedition is being filmed by Atlantic Productions for a five-part Discovery Channel documentary series due to air in late 2019.

Arriving in Guam after the completion of the dives, Vescovo said, “It is almost indescribable how excited all of us are about achieving what we just did. 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,” he added according to a statement released on the occasion.

The expedition used a 4.6m-long submarine called the DSV Limiting Factor (Triton 36000/2 model submersible). It is currently the world’s deepest diving, currently operational submarine, built to withstand the crushing pressure of the ocean and freezing temperatures.

The Five Deeps Expedition is the third such attempt in the Mariana Trench so far. Earlier in 2012, filmmaker and explorer James Cameron managed to reach a depth of 10,908 meters at Challenger Deep, the deepest point of the trench.

Credit: Reeve Jolliffe

Credit: Reeve Jolliffe

The first ever dive at Challenger Deep was made by US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss scientist Jacques Piccard in 1960. They descended 10,912m in a deep submergence bathyscape called the the Trieste.

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Walsh was now present to witness this newest accomplishment. “Victor Vescovo’s imagination and fierce curiosity; Triton Submarines technical brilliance, and the outstanding performance of the officers and crew of mothership Pressure Drop all converged to make this expedition a huge success. And I was there to see it,” 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. I was proud and honored to have been invited to be part of Victor’s team when it made world history at Challenger Deep,” Walsh continued.

With his dives, Vescovo has became the first person to have climbed the highest peak on every continent, been to the bottom of four of the world’s oceans and skied to both the North and South poles of the planet.

The next stop on the Five Deeps Expedition is the Horizon Deep within the Tonga Trench in the South Pacific Ocean. Previously measured at 10,882 meters deep, the Tonga Trench is widely known as the second-deepest ocean trench in the world.

After the Tonga Trench diving program is complete, the Five Deeps Expedition team will stop once more at the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic Ocean on its way to the overall expedition’s fifth and final deep dive in late August, the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean.