Trash found littering ocean floor in deepest-ever sub dive

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The Skaff lander floats next to the research vessel DSSV Pressure Drop above the Pacific Oceans's Mariana Trench in an undated photo released by the Discovery Channel May 13, 2019. (REUTERS)
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Undersea explorer Victor Vescovo pilots the submarine DSV Limiting Factor in the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench in an undated still image from video released by the Discovery Channel May 13, 2019. (REUTERS)
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Sea creatures swim around a part of a submersible lander, illuminated by the light of the submarine DSV Limiting Factor on the floor of the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench in an undated still image from video released by the Discovery Channel May 13, 2019. (Reuters)
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A technician checks the submarine DSV Limiting Factor aboard the research vessel DSSV Pressure Drop above the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench in an undated photo released by the Discovery Channel May 13, 2019. (REUTERS)
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An object described by a spokesperson for the Five Deeps Mariana expedition as "manmade" is illuminated at top right by the light of the submarine DSV Limiting Factor on the floor of the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench, in an undated still image from video released by the Discovery Channel May 13, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 14 May 2019
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Trash found littering ocean floor in deepest-ever sub dive

  • Vescovo found undiscovered species as he visited places no human had gone before

NEW YORK: On the deepest dive ever made by a human inside a submarine, a Texas investor and explorer found something he could have found in the gutter of nearly any street in the world: trash.
Victor Vescovo, a retired naval officer, said he made the unsettling discovery as he descended nearly 6.8 miles (35,853 feet/10,928 meters) to a point in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench that is the deepest place on Earth. His dive went 52 feet (16 meters) lower than the previous deepest descent in the trench in 1960.
Vescovo found undiscovered species as he visited places no human had gone before. On one occasion he spent four hours on the floor of the trench, viewing sea life ranging from shrimp-like anthropods with long legs and antennae to translucent “sea pigs” similar to a sea cucumber.
He also saw angular metal or plastic objects, one with writing on it.
“It was very disappointing to see obvious human contamination of the deepest point in the ocean,” Vescovo said in an interview.
Plastic waste has reached epidemic proportions in the world’s oceans with an estimated 100 million tons dumped there to date, according to the United Nations. Scientists have found large amounts of micro plastic in the guts of deep-dwelling ocean mammals like whales.

RAISE AWARENESS
Vescovo hoped his discovery of trash in the Mariana Trench would raise awareness about dumping in the oceans and pressure governments to better enforce existing regulations, or put new ones in place.
“It’s not a big garbage collection pool, even though it’s treated as such,” Vescovo said of the worlds’ oceans.
In the last three weeks, the expedition has made four dives in the Mariana Trench in his submarine, “DSV Limiting Factor,” collecting biological and rock samples.
It was the third time humans have dived to the deepest point in the ocean, known as Challenger Deep. Canadian movie maker James Cameron was the last to visit in 2012 in his submarine, reaching a depth of 35,787 feet (10,908 meters).
Prior to Cameron’s dive, the first-ever expedition to Challenger Deep was made by the US Navy in 1960, reaching a depth of 10,912 meters


Man’s best friend: The dogs who sniff out explosives in Kabul

In this photo taken on April 7, 2019, Afghan dog handlers walk along with explosive detection dogs on leash during a practice session at the Mine Detection Centre (MDC) in Kabul. (AFP)
Updated 16 July 2019
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Man’s best friend: The dogs who sniff out explosives in Kabul

  • The canines’ initial mission was to hunt for land mines, a vital task in a country left strewn with the devastating weapons during the war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s

KABUL: Naya, a three-year-old Belgian Malinois, focuses intently as she leaps over hurdles and zooms through tunnels on an obstacle course at a training center on a hill overlooking Kabul.
She seems to be having fun, but is in fact being trained for a life-or-death mission: finding explosives in a country where hidden mines, bombs and weapons routinely kill.
Naya is one of about 200 dogs at the Afghan capital’s Mine Detection Center (MDC), a non-governmental group raising the animals from rambunctious pups into a disciplined force, and teaching handlers how to work with the canines.
A common sight around the Afghan capital, explosives-sniffing dogs are deployed at checkpoints and government facilities, where they are an important tool in combatting the flow of homemade bombs being smuggled into Kabul.
“The dogs are very useful — they are very fast, they do their jobs with great speed,” Taj Mohammad, a long-time trainer at the center, told AFP on a recent visit.
Handlers demonstrated how they train dogs to hone in on particular scents — explosives mainly, but also narcotics — by using a special carousel of identical metal cannisters that conceal different smells.
Each time a dog correctly identifies a target smell, the handler gives it a rubber chewy ball to chomp on as a reward.
“The relationship with the handler must be perfect. If it does not work, there will be casualties,” Mohammad said.
It takes about two years to train an explosives dog, and the process is intense for both the handler and the canine. The animals at the MDC are all German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois.
“It’s as if you are building a house or bringing up a child,” Mohammad said.
Handlers get about $500 a month for their dangerous work — not a bad wage in Afghanistan — as well as life insurance and retirement benefits.
Explosives are “a hidden enemy, so all the time I have a little fear in my heart,” dog handler Zabihullah Amin said.

After the MDC was established in 1989, the dogs mainly came from the Netherlands, but now most are local after breeding started here in 1994. More than 1,100 dogs have completed the training.
The canines’ initial mission was to hunt for land mines, a vital task in a country left strewn with the devastating weapons during the war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
But the dogs’ use tapered off in recent years following a series of incidents where they missed explosives, sometimes causing casualties as people returned to areas thought to be cleared.
According to Abdul Qudos Ziaee, head of operations at Afghanistan’s Directorate of Mine Action Coordination, dogs can be a useful mine-detection tool if properly managed.
But in several areas contaminated with anti-vehicle mines, some agencies failed to use the canines correctly or handlers were improperly trained, leading to sloppy practice and areas of terrain left dangerous.
“Whether it was fault of the dog handler or the dog was not properly trained ... the mine will be missed and the negative consequence will be borne by civilians,” Qudos Ziaee told AFP.
Dogs can still be used to sweep large areas deemed “low threat,” he said, noting that procedures are currently being revised and new standards will be introduced in about a year.
At the MDC, handlers insist dogs are a better tool for finding mines than mechanical detectors, as they can sniff the explosives in non-metallic devices.
According to Ziaee, at least 1,432 people were killed or wounded in Afghanistan by mines and so-called explosive remnants of war in 2018.
Mohammad Wirwais, who works at the Mine Detection Center, was blinded by a mine while clearing terrain in 2008.
“I am fortunate and lucky, I have friends ... who lost their lives to mine explosions,” he said.
“I am good, thank God, I can solve my problems on my own, and I can work here too.”