American explorer Victor Vescovo is like a character in a Jules Verne novel come to life: Having already summited the highest mountain on every continent, he has now turned his attention downward—to the vast uncharted depths of the ocean. As part of the Five Deeps Expedition, a mission to reach the deepest points in every ocean, he as now completed the deepest solo manned sea dive ever recorded, CNN Travel reports. Using a specially designed submarine, Vescovo ventured 35,853 feet to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench. He returned with reports of new species of marine life and, unfortunately, plastic trash, even tens of thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface.
“It’s just an unfortunate consequence of multiple billions of people on earth and all we consume,” Vescovo told ABC.
He made multiple journeys to the ocean floor, including one trip that lasted four hours. He broke the previous dive record, set by Titanic director James Cameron in 2012, by 52 feet, CNN Travel reports. This was the fourth major dive of the Five Deeps Expedition. Vescovo and his team had previously completed dives to the bottom in the Atlantic Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and Indian Ocean as well. In August, they’ll visit the bottom of the Molloy Deep, an unexplored area in the Arctic Ocean. The Five Deeps Expedition will also be profiled in a forthcoming Discovery documentary.
Vescovo has made his underwater journeys in a submarine called The Limiting Factor, described as the world’s first two-person, titanium-hulled submersible that has been tested to 120 percent of full ocean depth. A key aspect of this most recent record-breaking mission was to capture video of the bottom of the Challenger Deep. The area was first explored in 1960 by oceanographers Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard, who used a submersible called Trieste.
“I criss-crossed all over the bottom looking for different wildlife, potentially unique geological formations or rocks, man-made objects, and yes, trying to see if there was an even deeper location than where the Trieste went all the way back in 1960,” Vescovo told CNN Travel.
Vescovo and the Five Deeps team made a number of key discoveries during the dive, including colorful rocky outcroppings, giant prawn-like amphipods, and bottom-dwelling sea cucumbers. They are also making maps of the ocean floor, which is among the most remote and least explored areas of the planet.
“So far, we’ve made up something like 150,000 square kilometers of deep sea floor now, and we’re only halfway through it,” Five Deeps chief scientist Alan Jamieson told CNN Travel. “Those maps, once we’ve processed them and cleaned them up, they will get put on online repositories, so they will be made available to anyone who wants to use them.”
Vescovo also hopes to sell the team’s sub to a scientific organization or government that could use it to make even more discoveries.
“It is very important to us that we show some initial scientific discoveries, just to give a small sample of what we could do if the sub was in the hands of a professional research organization,” he said.
For now though, the Five Deeps team is working hard to finish their next dives and enjoy the thrill of exploration. That includes having a little fun: According to a press release, Vescovo took an ice axe and a Texas state flag with him on the underwater journey—they had previously accompanied him to the top of Mt. Everest. The bottom of the ocean may be one of the most mysterious and inaccessible parts of our planet, but for Vescovo, it’s a peaceful place as well.
“Honestly, towards the end, I simply turned the thrusters off, leaned back in the cockpit, and enjoyed a tuna fish sandwich while I very slowly drifted just above the bottom of the deepest place on earth, enjoying the view and appreciating what the team had done technically,” he told CNN Travel. “It was a very happy, peaceful moment for me. And then I came up.”