Pinoy scientist ready to make history in deep dive mission | Inquirer News

Pinoy scientist ready to make history in deep dive mission

/ 05:18 AM March 19, 2021

GRACE ON BOARD ‘PRESSURE’ Dr. Deo Florence Onda (center, in blue) is joined onboard by the Filipino crew of the DSSV Pressure Drop, the only marine vessel in the world that is capable of launching the DSV Limiting Factor, the deep-sea submersible that will carry Onda and fellow explorer Victor Vescovo to Emden Deep in the Philippine Trench. Vescovo currently holds the record for the deepest manned underwater descent ever made, which he accomplished in the Mariana Trench in 2019. —PHOTOS COURTESY OF DEO FLORENCE ONDA

Filipino oceanographer Deo Florence Onda has explored several places on Earth nowhere near the itinerary of the average, weekend adventurer: from the extinct volcanic ridge known as Philippine Rise in the Philippine Sea to the frigid North Pole in the Arctic Ocean.

Next week, the scientist will embark on yet another quest, this time to make history as the first Filipino—and one of the first two people—to reach Emden Deep in the Philippine Trench, the third deepest point in the world.


At approximately 10,400 meters below sea level, the bowels of Emden Deep go way, way down to a point where Mt. Everest—the planet’s tallest peak at 8,848 meters—can be completely submerged, with still plenty of headroom to spare.


The Emden Deep Expedition from March 22 to 28 will mark the first-ever dive below 10,000 meters within Philippine waters, and the first-ever deep dive in the Philippine Trench.

For the 33-year-old Onda, however, the upcoming, historic attempt “is just another day in the work, another day in the field.”

Onda, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI), was invited to join the expedition by Caladan Oceanic, a private organization dedicated to advancing undersea technology. Over the past few years, the company has been setting records for embarking on manned descents into the world’s deepest trenches.

‘Advocate for the ocean’

During the Emden Deep mission, Onda will be joined by Victor Vescovo, the organization’s main sponsor and fellow undersea explorer who holds the current record for the deepest manned descent—one he accomplished in the Mariana Trench in 2019.

“Dr. Onda is a prominent and highly successful marine [scientist] as well as a strong advocate for the ocean,” expedition leader Rob McCallum said of the Filipino scientist.

“The trench is an important, if often overlooked, component of the Philippines’ rich and marine ecosystem. It is entirely appropriate that Dr. Onda be the first scientist to see it,” he said in an email interview.


As of this writing, Onda and Vescovo, along with the other crew members of the Caladan Expedition, were onboard DSSV Pressure Drop, the only marine vessel in the world capable of launching the deep-sea submersible DSV Limiting Factor.

The DSV Limiting Factor is designed to reach the ocean’s darkest abyss and can withstand the immense pressure of the descent up to 11,000 meters. The state-of-the-art submersible will take Onda and Vescovo to their target depth, on a downward journey that will take about four hours.

Including the trip back to the ship, the mission will take roughly eight to 12 hours.

RIDE TO THE ABYSS Onda stands next to the DSV Limiting Factor, a manned, state-of-the-art submersible capable of repeat missions into the planet’s most forbidding depths. It will carry the Filipino scientist in the
first-ever attempt to reach Emden Deep in the Philippine Trench, the third deepest spot in the world.

Rare opportunity

For Onda, the expedition is an opportunity of a lifetime that will not only set records and test human limitations, but also offer a rare opportunity to draw attention to a rather unknown part of the Philippine Trench, which in itself is a unique marine feature within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“By going there, just like when we did in Philippine Rise and in the West Philippine Sea, we also bring the people’s and the government’s attention to it,” he told the Inquirer in an online interview, just as the DSSV Pressure Drop sailed from the port of Guam on Wednesday.

“Hopefully, the Filipino people will be able to experience the Emden Deep through my own experiences and that will result in more appreciation of our heritage and of the marine environment, and hopefully protection and government action on certain issues,” he added.

Exclusive club

To date, more people have gone into space than to the deepest parts of the Earth’s oceans, said Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

“With this dive, Dr. Deo Florence Onda joins a special and exclusive club of a very few people who have traveled to the deepest places on the planet,” Batongbacal said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “This achievement is comparable to going to the moon, to which only 24 people (all Americans) have ever been.”

While the expedition is considered a non-Marine Scientific Research activity, Onda said he was looking forward to documenting his experience of the unchartered territory that awaits him below.

As a professor, most of the things he teaches about the deep sea are from textbooks and are written based on explorations in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Northern Pacific, he said.

“But when I come back, I will be teaching my students something that is not just out of a textbook… but something that I’ve actually seen with my own eyes and experienced myself,” he said.

“Understanding the deepest part of the ocean is part of understanding the ocean itself… [It] will allow us to understand how we can manage it more sustainably, and to maximize, protect and preserve it.”

Plastic trash

The youngest faculty member of the UP MSI, the Palawan-born scientist has previously led expeditions to explore and study the Philippine waters. In 2019, he was the chief scientist of an expedition to the Kalayaan Island Group in the West Philippine Sea, leading a team of millennial scientists aboard RV Kasarinlan, now called RV Panata, MSI’s first own research vessel after 50 years.

After two weeks in the expedition, the young scientists came back with stories not only about new scientific discoveries in the West Philippine Sea, but also about something that equally demands action—the alarming volume of plastic trash floating out in the open waters.

And so when Onda begins his Emden descent, he’s going to be on the lookout not just for a giant squid—but also for new perspectives on the impact of plastic waste on the marine world.

Vescovo himself has found a plastic bag and candy wrappers at the ocean’s deepest point in the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench during his dive in 2019, revealing the alarming extent of plastic pollution.

“If we see plastics there, then we will see how much the extent and the gravity of plastic pollution is actually happening in our waters,” Onda said. “It demonstrates the connection of us people to the deep sea, and that’s why we need to put attention and interest to actually invest in it.”

For the flag

UP MSI said Onda’s participation in the Emden Deep Expedition will also lead to the enrichment of knowledge and experience as the country endeavors to build its own National Academic Research Fleet, an ongoing government-funded project to build more science vessels and launch more marine explorations in the country.

But all these still lie in the future. For now, Onda looks forward to the one-of-a-kind adventure ahead of him, and his chance to wave a Philippine flag as he reaches the ocean floor—a symbolic assertion of Philippine sovereignty.

“I hope being sent down there is also a recognition of [the work] of Filipino scientists, that we can accomplish big things if we are given support and proper recognition,” he said. “I hope Filipino scientists also dare to dream and reach those dreams.”

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

“I never thought of being sent 10,000 meters below and yet I am here. What I just wanted to do is serve the Philippines,” he said, adding: “I hope in my own way, this is me contributing back to the country.”

TAGS: Arctic Ocean

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.