National Geographic


Expedition Journal

An Issue on Everyone’s Mind

Apra Harbor, Guam

This morning, just after sunrise, on the concrete pier in front of the Mermaid Sapphire, a Japanese fishing vessel offloaded hundreds of yellowfin tuna. I watched as a truck-mounted crane swung over the stern of the Taiseimaru No. 8 and dropped its hook over the freezer hatch. Men attached strings of gleaming tuna to the hook, and the strings of big fish were lifted up and transferred to a large, water-filled tub, hosed down and moved to a wide metal tray covered with clear plastic. Within minutes, muscular women wearing shiny black aprons had wrapped and stacked the stiff blue bodies side by side inside boxes that said “Fresh Pacific Yellowfin Tuna.” The three other heavily burdened fishing boats tied up behind Taiseimaru No. 8 suggested that this scene was being repeated many times and in many ports around the world.

Last night Dr. Glenn told me about the dives he had made with the 3-D film crew in Papua New Guinea. “We saw amazing reefs,” he said, “And beautiful fish. But the fish were small. There was nothing much bigger than the size of your hand.”

With more scientists joining the expedition, one of the issues on everyone’s mind is how much we’ve changed the ocean since Don and Jacques made their epic descent into the Mariana Trench half a century ago. For the past 52 years we’ve been engaged in an all-out war against the creatures that inhabit its depths. Our weapons of mass destruction include nets, dredges, long-lines, harpoons, and toxic chemicals. We’ve aimed them at all levels of the ocean, from the surface waters to mid-waters to the abyssal depths. The result is a great dying off of sharks, big fish, small fish, plankton, and coral reefs. We’re in the midst of a Darwinian death spiral affecting all life on Earth and every member of the human family.

In a deep, visceral way, Jim is acutely aware of the human impact on the ocean. This afternoon he met with Manny Mori, the president of the Federated States of Micronesia. He thanked the president for his assistance to the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE Expedition and asked if there was anything he might do in return. “Please tell the world about global warming,” said President Mori. “Sea levels are rising and we are losing our land. All across Micronesia, taro patches used for hundreds of years are now submerged. It is especially difficult during the big winter tides.”

For all of us, Jim’s 7-mile (11-kilometer) dive is more than a 14-mile (22-kilometer) round-trip into the deep end of the ocean. It’s a journey into the history, geography, and future of the planet’s major life-support system. He’s diving into a place that inspires the imagination and wounds the heart.


Written by Dr. Joe MacInnis

Photograph by Joe MacInnis

Science Partners

  • Additional major support provided by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • University of Guam