On an expedition to Emden Deep, Filipino oceanographer Deo Florence Onda and American explorer Victor Vescovo discovered a variety of items that suggested the extent of human activity on nature: a stuffed teddy bear, plastic bags, packaging and even clothes—buried in the sediment.
Emden Deep, in the Philippine Trench, is located in the east of Mindanao. It is the third deepest point in the world with a depth of 10,045 meters, and it is the first ever deep dive exceeding 10,000 meters within Philippine waters. For comparison, Emden Deep has a depth is that is deeper than Mt. Everest is high.
The mission, which took place last March 23, was spearheaded by Caladan Oceanic, a private group with the goal of advancing undersea technology.
Vescovo, having had done all deep dives in the five deepest points in the world, described the pollution of the ocean in Emden Deep as “extensive.”
“The greatest amount of contamination I’ve seen in any deep dive was at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, at the Calypso Deep, but the Emden Deep is the second largest,” he said. “In the Emden Deep, we saw scattered locations of human debris, isolated here and there. It was in pockets.”
“People think that if they throw something into the ocean, it will just decompose over time,” he added. “But they are actually preserved.”
Onda and Vescovo believe that the debris may have floated in from Hawaii as well as nearby Pacific islands and coastal communities near the Trench, like Siargao. It may also have come from passing vessels, as the country is near major shipping lanes.
“The Philippine Trench is already so deep, but human pollution was still able to reach it,” said Onda, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines’ Marine Institute and a founding member of the Plastics Research Network. “What more for shallower environments like coral reefs and seagrass beds? If we don’t do anything, I wouldn’t be surprised if I get confused if I was in the Philippine Trench or in Manila Bay.”
The explorers believe that such a pervasive issue cannot be solved overnight, but that their discovery would result in stricter policies regarding plastic production, use and waste management, as well as cause a behavioral change in people by showing the impact humans have on the planet.