Why a discovery at the bottom of the Mariana Trench is bad news for us all
Explorer Victor Vescovo recently broke a record for deep-diving expeditions. But that’s not the only thing on his mind. The Texas businessman was on a mission to chart the deepest depths of the world’s oceans, and on his record-breaking dive down into the Mariana Trench, he found something that should spark concern in everyone: Vescovo found trash. What this might mean for our oceans and our world remains unclear, but we can no longer ignore the severity of our pollution problem if even the deepest parts of the world are suffering.
What Is The Mariana Trench?
The Mariana Trench is the deepest place in the world. Located in the Pacific Ocean just north of Australia and east of the Mariana Islands, the Trench is approximately 1,500 miles (2,550 kilometers) long and about 43 miles (322 kilometers) wide. Few people have ever descended into the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, a spot known as Challenger Deep, which is almost 7 miles below the ocean’s surface.
In 1875, a British expedition first discovered the Trench using a sounding rope; they determined that the Trench was about 5 miles deep. Another British expedition in 1951 used echo-sounder technology and updated the depth to the current estimate of 7 miles. Since those initial exploratory above-water attempts at mapping the Mariana Trench, few have attempted to physically visit and explore its depths. It wasn’t until the 1960s that explorers could even reach the depths in person. Titanic director James Cameron visited the Challenger Deep in 2012; his 10,908-meter dive held the world record for deepest dive— that is, until Vescovo.
On May 1, Vescovo made history when he made a world-record dive into the Challenger Deep. His dive was part of a yearlong exploration into the deepest depths of the ocean; he has already completed mapping missions in the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic Ocean, the Sandwich Trench in the South Atlantic, and the Java Trench in the Indian Ocean.
Vescovo’s dive took him 10,927 meters (35,853 feet) into the deepest trench on Earth. Each journey on his submersible The Limiting Factor lasted approximately 12 hours, and he completed a number of dives into the Trench. While his purpose for the dive was scientific in nature, Vescovo also says that he wants to embrace the extreme and exploratory part of human nature and push himself to the limits.
While down in the Trench, Vescovo discovered at least three new marine life species, but what was more startling was the presence of a plastic bag and candy wrappers floating around in the depths. Although specialists are reluctant to confirm the trash discovery, it is clear that the items were man-made. The crew also plans on testing the creatures they found to determine if they had ingested any plastic.
Why Does It Matter?
Most people know that pollution is a problem and that landfills throughout the world are overflowing; many have even heard of garbage islands throughout the ocean where plastics and other types of waste have collected. But the thought of human garbage infiltrating the most remote corners of our world is startling.
Ocean pollution doesn’t only affect the lives of fish, coral reefs, and divers, it affects everyone. Pollution can impact seafood (both in terms of availability, quality, and safety), beach recreation, and ocean-based careers, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Polluting the oceans changes their chemical makeup and could drastically impact the vital role they play in our world. Whatever it was that Vescovo found in the Mariana Trench, it is clear that our pollution problem reaches even further than we know.