By Kailin LaRosa

The Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean has long been synonymous with the deepest pits of the unknown. Extending down as far as 11,000 meters off the coasts of the South Pacific islands, the content of the deepest known part of the ocean has been a mystery to humans for centuries. As technology has developed, however, scientists have been diving deeper and deeper in order to explore this region of water that has commonly been referred to as the Earth’s last true frontier. One of the most recent deep dives suggests that the Mariana Trench contains more than just the Loch Ness monsters of our childhood imaginations, and that we humans have touched more of the ‘last frontier’ than we may think.

Rebecca Morelle of BBC News reports that Victor Vescovo, an American explorer, recently embarked on the deepest dive into the Mariana Trench since 1960. What was intended to be a celebration of the advancements of modern technology and science ended up displaying the negative impact human development has had on the Earth’s health. Alongside the discovery of new species, Vescovo and his team also discovered synthetic debris such as plastic bags and candy wrappers mingling with the ocean’s deepest inhabitants. This discovery confirms the frightening reality that even the deepest depths of the sea- the world’s ‘last frontier’- are not free from the consequences of human activity.

Not everyone is a scientist or an oceanologist, so how does this discovery impact the average person? What can we, as individuals, do about it?

First, it is important to understand the larger threat indicated by this discovery. The environmental danger of plastic is that it is not biodegradable. That means that when you’re done with your plastic water bottles or plastic shopping bags, those pieces of plastic will take 450 to 1,000 years to completely decompose depending on what type of plastic products they are. When that already environmentally-harmful piece of garbage is then carelessly dumped into our oceans, all of the creatures that live there are put in danger, just like the planet. The stomachs of beloved sea creatures like dolphins, turtles, and seahorses are not naturally capable of digesting plastic, and when these creatures eventually eat the pieces of plastic that they mistake for prey, the results are often fatal.

In our everyday lives, the dominating presence that plastic has in the packaging of food and drinks has made it seem like an unavoidable evil. However, this is not the case. There are several steps a person could take to live a more sustainable and environmentally friendly life. Investing in a reusable water bottle or coffee cup, switching to metal straws, or bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store are just small changes that a person can make that can have a big impact on the environment in the long run. Additionally, while it might be a more extreme change to implement, the zero waste lifestyle provides sustainable alternatives to all products that produce any waste at all, not just plastic.

So while it is a devastating discovery to realize the depth of the negative impact human activity is having on the Earth, this discovery can be used as a wake-up call for every person to become a more mindful consumer and to be conscientious of the waste he or she produces.