He went where no human had gone before to break the record for the deepest dive in history. When descending with his submarine at a depth of 10,927 metres on May 1, 2019, the American explorer Victor Vescovo did not imagine that manmade trash had already preceded him in the Mariana Trench, in the Pacific Ocean. In this area where no man had ever been, he discovered the presence of a plastic bag and candy packaging.
There is proof of human contamination in the abyss
The imprint of man is marked much deeper in the heart of the planet than one could have imagined. At nearly 11,000 meters deep in an abyss where man had never been until now, lie on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean products created, consumed and thrown away by man. This disturbing discovery was made by Victor Vescovo, a former businessman who made a fortune on Wall Street and who, in 2018, took the challenge to explore the deepest areas of the five oceans in the world.
In December 2018, he dived in the Puerto Rico pit reaching 8,376 metres in the Atlantic. In February, he explored the depth of the South Sandwich Pit at 7,433.6 metres in the Southern Ocean, and in April, he dived in the pit of Java – descending at 7,192 metres in the Indian Ocean. Each of his expeditions is carried out in partnership with the British University of Newcastle, as well as the British Geological Survey. Samples of sand, rocks, and living organisms detected by the submarine are harvested for a health check of the abyss.
The early May expedition to the Pacific Ocean – which lasted three weeks and resulted in three separate dives revealed four new species of amphipods and observed echurians. These are sea worms with proboscis – a specimen of pink “slugfish” at 7,924.8 meters depth, or translucent scotoplanes, comparable to sea cucumbers from the abyss. The team of scientists will now carry out analysis to determine the percentage of plastic contained in their body.
One hundred million tons of plastic are drifting in our oceans
According to the United Nations, some one hundred million tons of plastic are already drifting in our oceans. Every year, between 5 and 13 million tons of waste are added to this mass, as per figures of the International Energy Agency. Scientists estimate that there are currently 5,000 billion floating plastic objects, including microparticles, stagnating on the surface of the oceans.
This harmful presence directly threatens ecosystems and biodiversity. A study, published by the World Bank, asserted that marine litter was present in all marine turtles studied, 59 percent of whales, 36 percent of seals and 40 percent of seabirds. Microparticles of plastic were even found in many species of fish and seafood sold for human consumption.
Mismanaged plastic waste is killing about a million people yearly
A resilient consumer product since the 1960s, plastic has now invaded our oceans. Since the 2000s, the production of plastic has more than doubled, according to the WWF. Production reached 396 million tonnes in 2016, or 53 kg per capita. It is estimated that by 2030, production will continue to grow to over 550 million tonnes.
Plastic is not bad in itself, but its superabundance makes it extremely dangerous for the planet as it is destroying ecosystems and causing all sorts of pollution. Fresh alarming reports reveal that mismanaged plastic waste is causing the death of up to one million people yearly in the world, according to charity Tearfund. The harm is more visible in developing countries where hundreds of thousands of people are dying every year from easily preventable causes as plastic waste is giving alarming proportions to this issue.
Poorer countries are the most impacted by plastic pollution
Mismanaged waste has been an issue for decades. However, the alarming growth of plastic pollution is adding a new layer of problems to an already grim situation. By blocking waterways and causing flooding, plastic waste is a key factor in spreading waterborne diseases. When it is burnt to be discarded, plastic waste furthermore releases harmful toxins and causes air pollution. In developing, it is common to burn or to dump plastic waste, and as the plastic deteriorates and breaks down into microplastics, it leaches harmful chemicals into the environment.
At the same time, plastic pollution is entailing a number of issues such as the loss of fishing as marine animals are ingesting plastic. Agriculture is being destroyed as a third of cattle and half of goats in developing countries have consumed considerable amount of plastic, leading to fatal bloating. Massive amounts of plastic waste on shorelines and coral reefs are equally deterring tourists from visiting several developing countries, triggering additional economic difficulties.
Thousands of people make a living as waste pickers
It is estimated that at least 2 billion people across the planet do not have their rubbish collected. This causes plastic waste to pile up in waterways or rot near residential areas. This is a health hazard as living near rubbish doubles the risk of getting diseases like diarrhoea which is a major cause of death in developing countries.
In such countries, hundreds of thousands of people also make a living from collecting waste. If in certain cases, they collect cans or bottles that can be recycled or returned, others, known as “waste pickers”, have a more dangerous life in the sense that they scavenge what they can on rubbish dumps and some even live on these dumps. They are undeniably exposed to diseases and physical injuries as well as dumps are generally poorly managed and can be affected by landslides or explosions caused by the build-up of gases.