Did you know that approximately 150 million metric tons of plastic waste are currently circulating around in the Earth’s marine environments? If you find that hard to believe, you would be more surprised to know that during an expedition to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, American undersea explorer Victor Vescovo found a plastic bag and other trash, confirming that plastic pollution has not spared even the deepest known point of the ocean.
The voyage, led by Victor Vescovo, is reportedly the deepest recorded sea dive ever conducted. The submersible reached 35,853 feet to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Victor Vescovo, a retired naval officer and private equity investor, conducted the voyage as part of the Discovery Channel’s Five Deeps Expedition. The goal of the expedition is to conduct in-depth, sonar-mapping missions at five of the deepest regions of our oceans. So far, the documentary crew has completed voyages to the Mariana Trench, Puerto Rico Trench, Java Trench, and the South Sandwich Trench.
The Mariana Trench dive was conducted on 28 April 2019, and the details of the expedition were released on 1 May. Vescovo and his crew reportedly reached 35,853 feet or 10,927 meters to the floor of Challenger Deep, which is the southern end of the Mariana Trench and also the deepest point in the ocean. The submersible called The Limiting Factor spent four hours exploring and charting the ocean bed.
The landmark voyage claimed the title of the deepest solo dive ever recorded. It was an incredible feat considering the fact that only a handful of people have been able to reach such extreme depths. Jacques Piccard, a Swiss oceanographer, and Don Walsh, a U.S. Navy Lieutenant, were the first to explore the Mariana Trench in 1960. Then again in 2012, movie director and National Geographic explorer James Cameron dove 35,787 feet to the depths of Challenger Deep. Vescovo broke his record by a margin of 62 feet.
Besides trash, the team was able to discover several new sea creatures at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Traveling to the bottom of the ocean and exploring the area has some unique challenges. Total darkness and extreme pressure make it enormously difficult to capture images. However, the team found a thriving ecosystem, even in the deepest and harshest region of the ocean. Some of their discoveries included colorful rocky outcrops, a pink snailfish, a spoon worm, sea cucumbers, and supergiant amphipods that resemble prawns. It was also reported that the team would have their scientists run tests on the creatures to find out if they have ingested plastic.
The discovery of plastic at the bottom of the ocean has far-reaching implications. The effect of pollution on the ocean ecosystem may be direr than we thought.
Around eight million metric tons of plastic enter the Earth’s oceans every year. You do not need to be a conservationist to know that the marine ecosystem is greatly threatened by such high levels of plastic pollution. The recent expedition and many other studies have revealed that trash has reached even the deepest trenches of the oceans. Sea turtles, seabirds, fish, and marine mammals get entangled or hurt by plastic trash. Many of them mistake plastic for food. In fact, studies of deep-sea amphipods have revealed signs of microplastic ingestion.
According to studies, plastic consumption and production are likely to double in the next decade. Failing to prevent this would pollute our oceans more and lead to the accumulation of 250 million metric tons of plastic waste. Needless to say, failure is not an option, and neither is inaction!