A record-breaking dive into the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the ocean, has revealed plastic pollution in another one of the world’s most remote corners, according to CNN. The alarming find comes amidst increasing awareness of plastic pollution, which has been found in even the most distant parts of the Arctic.
Victor Vescovo, an undersea explorer, financier and retired naval officer, traveled nearly 11,000 feet to the bottom of Challenger Deep, within the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. According to Vescovo’s team, it was the deepest solo dive ever, part of a broader effort to chart the world’s deepest underwater locations using sonar mapping.
The team has also surveyed the Puerto Rico Trench and the South Sandwich Trench in the Atlantic, as well as the Java Trench in the Indian Ocean.
But Vescovo told CNN that setting the new record was also part of the Challenger Deep mission:
“Going to the extremes I believe is a natural inclination of man,” he said. “I think it is a wonderful part of human nature that makes us want to push ourselves to the limits, which has helped propel us as a species to where we are now.”
The team also discovered four new species of crustaceans called amphipods, bottom-dwelling sea cucumbers, “vibrantly colorful” rocky outcroppings that may have been created by microbes, and brought back rock samples from the ocean floor.
But those efforts were perhaps overshadowed by Vescovo’s discovery of what appeared to be a plastic bag and candy wrappers. The team is working to confirm what he saw.
The team will also test the sea creatures from the trench for microplastics they may have absorbed from their environment.
It was only the third time humans have reached the depths of the Mariana Trench. Most recently, director James Cameron set a record in 2012. But the first expedition was in 1960, by oceanographers Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard.
Walsh accompanied the team to observe Vescovo’s dive.
“I salute Victor Vescovo and his outstanding team for the successful completion of their historic explorations into the Mariana Trench,” he said. “Now in the winter of my life, it was a great honor to be invited on this expedition to a place of my youth.”
Vescovo used a submersible built by the US company Triton submarines, called The Limiting Factor, designed to repeatedly dive to the deepest parts of the ocean. While this was a solo dive, it can fit two people in its 9 centimeter-thick titanium pressure hull.
In August, the team is aiming to reach the bottom of the Arctic Ocean’s Molloy Deep.