It is a place that has been visited by fewer people than have flown to the moon: total darkness, 11 km down, the last frontier.
Last month, Nicole Yamase became the first Pacific Islander, the third woman and, at 29, the second youngest person to visit Challenger Deep, the deepest known part of the Mariana Trench.
The approximately 50 km long and 6 km wide Challenger Deep lies within the territorial waters of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and FSM President David Panuelo said it was “appropriate that a Micronesia has finally seen the Challenger Deep background, “adding that Yamase’s work was” impressive in its importance and impressive in its beauty. “
Yamase brought personal souvenirs to the submersible for the 10-hour mission, which took it nearly 7 miles below the ocean’s surface. They included the FSM flag, a traditional Mwaramwar cowrie shell necklace and a miniature wooden canoe, a gift from his father and a symbol of his boating heritage.
She said the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the depths of the ocean that sustained her ancestors made her feel more connected to her culture and appreciate the complementary nature of science and traditional knowledge.
“Our ancestors were scientists from the beginning. They observed and collected data … they tried and tested new things, ”he said.
Yamase grew up in Palau, Saipan, and Chuuk and Pohnpei, and is now pursuing a Ph.D. on the effects of climate change on macroalgae and near-shore marine plants at the University of Hawaii.
The expedition was organized by deep-sea explorer Victor Vescovo, owner of the DSSV Pressure Drop, a support vessel used to transport the DSV Limiting Factor, the only Triton 36000/2 submersible built to dive to the full depth of the ocean (nearly 11,000 m).
Vescovo has the mission of mapping the seabed. He also wants to expand access to independent scientists and inspire the explorers of tomorrow. She said it was important for a scientist from Micronesia to make the trip, given that Challenger Deep is in the territorial waters of FSM, adding: “I think more women should be involved in science.”
To get to Challenger Deep, Yamase first flew to Guam, where he joined the Pressure Drop crew of about 30 for the day trip to the southernmost part of the Mariana Trench.
On the morning of the dive, Yamase waded into the confines of the Limiting Factor, sitting next to Vescovo for the descent to the seabed.
Surrounded by oxygen tanks and flashing control panels, there would be no bathroom break for ten hours, but the ship’s Austrian chef insisted they follow the tradition and bring his apple strudel for a snack.
During the four-hour descent and ascent from the seabed, Vescovo and Yamase kept up the joyous atmosphere by listening to music (ABBA) and watching movies (Blue Planet).
Although a myriad of mysterious sea creatures inhabit the depths, Yamase described Challenger Deep as similar to a desert or lunar landscape where “sea snow,” tiny particles of organic material, float from above. They also saw debris, pieces of rope, on the seabed.
Increasingly, the seafloor is a place of competition and potential conflict as industrialized nations and corporations look to the resources of the deep ocean with plans to mine mineral-rich polymetallic nodules in what remains largely territory. unexplored.
Yamase hopes her experience inspires Pacific Islander women to pursue STEM and higher education. “If I can do it,” he said, “they can do it too.” And although women traditionally stayed close to the coast, she called her experience a way to break gender boundaries and expectations.
“We belong to the coast,” Yamase said. “We belong until the end, and also in all the places in between.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism