Maui News

UH Graduate Student is First Pacific Islander to Reach Ocean’s Deepest Point

April 8, 2021, 4:21 PM HST
* Updated April 8, 4:22 PM
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  • Photo credit: Verola Media and Caladan Oceanic.
  • Photo credit: Verola Media and Caladan Oceanic.
  • Photo credit: Verola Media and Caladan Oceanic.
  • Photo credit: Verola Media and Caladan Oceanic.

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa graduate, Nicole Yamase is the first Pacific Islander to voyage to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench and its deepest region, the Challenger Deep – 35,827 feet – on March 11, 2021.

Yamase is a PhD candidate in the UH Mānoa Marine Biology Graduate Program with her research focused on shallow water communities. She was nominated by the Micronesia Conservation Trust in partnership with the Waitt Institute. She represents her country as its first Pacific Islander, first marine botanist, youngest female and third woman to ever visit Challenger Deep.

“So my research focuses on shallow water communities, specifically macroalgae which is the foundation of the food web. And now I could see, quite literally how these reefs in the Federated States of Micronesia are connected with the deepest place on Earth,” said Yamase.

Some of the energy that supported life in Challenger Deep may have been contributed by dead plant material that has made its way to the bottom via marine snow, a shower of organic material falling from upper waters to the deep ocean. After seeing debris – tethers – at the bottom of the ocean, it pushes Yamase to finish her degree and be a part of organizations that help protect the full reef from shallow waters to deep ocean.

Victor Vescovo, owner of the 224-foot research vessel DSSV Pressure Drop and the only commercially certified submersible that is capable of reaching any ocean depth multiple times, piloted the two-person submersible to the Challenger Deep.

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Four hours after leaving the surface, Yamase and Vescovo made it to the bottom and spent two hours exploring the eastern part of the pool, an area no human, to their knowledge, has ever been before. Then they took another four hour ride back up to the surface, spending a total of 10 hours underwater.

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