A Different 8,000’er: First Human Descent of One of World’s Deepest Ocean Trenches

Ocean explorer Victor Vescovo has made the first-ever human descent into the Palau Trench.

Vescovo, a former naval commander and the leader of Caladan Oceanic Expeditions, made the eight-hour submersible trip with former Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. The pair reached a maximum depth of 8,027m — a scale matched on land only by the 14 peaks that rise above that altitude.

Vescovo and Remengesau started the descent on Monday morning and returned after 4 pm the same day. They are the first people to reach the bottom of the trench.

“Saw some great wildlife and ascended a very steep wall,” Vescovo tweeted. “But also, heartbreakingly and all too common, a piece of human contamination.”

Two photos from the first human visit to the Palau Trench this week. Photo: Caladan Oceanic Expeditions

Mapping the depths

The Palau Trench lies just below its namesake island about 1,000km east of the Philippines. It’s one of the world’s deepest ocean trenches, but Vescovo had actually ventured even deeper below the surface elsewhere only a few days before exploring it.

On July 14, he piloted the first human descent into the Yap Trench, located southwest of the Mariana Trench. Joined by Master Navigator Sesario Sewrawul of the Federated States of Micronesia, Vescovo conducted a three-kilometre traverse of the trench. They reached a maximum depth of 8,934m before ascending a 1,000m wall on the eastern side.

But Vescovo’s biggest discovery of the summer was finding the world’s deepest shipwreck yet: a USS destroyer sunk during World War II. On June 22, Vescovo’s team found the USS Destroyer Escort Samuel B. Roberts about 7,000m at the bottom of the Philippine Sea.

Thanks to the efforts of explorers like Vescovo, nearly a quarter of the ocean’s floor has now been mapped, the BBC reported. The effort has also included Seabed 2030, an organization that aims to map the entire ocean floor over the next few years.

As part of that effort, Vescovo himself has contributed more than three million square kilometres.