Filipino scientists

Filipino scientist among first humans to reach 3rd deepest spot on Earth

Iya Gozum

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Filipino scientist among first humans to reach 3rd deepest spot on Earth

INTO THE EMDEN DEEP. This photo shows Deo Onda bound for the third deepest spot on Earth aboard the DSV Limiting Factor.

Photo from DSSV Pressure Drop's Facebook page

Deo Florence Onda waves the Philippine flag 10,045 meters below the Philippine Trench

A Filipino scientist made history on Tuesday, March 23, as one of the first humans to reach the Emden Deep, the third deepest spot on Earth.

Deo Florence Onda, a microbial oceanographer from the Marine Science Institute (MSI) of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, plunged into the uncharted abyss with his partner, American explorer Victor Vescovo, onboard the DSV Limiting Factor. 

Down the depths of the Philippine Trench, Onda waved the Philippine flag. “We’ve set records. We have made history today,” Onda said in a tweet.

Onda, a vocal advocate of Philippine sovereign rights, said in a video he took while they were 10,045 meters below, “Sa mga Pilipino, ito po ang Emden Deep. Atin ito (To Filipinos, this is the Emden Deep. This is ours)!”

The crew that remained onboard the DSSV Pressure Drop monitored the successful descent and burst into applause as Onda and Vescovo reached the deepest spot.

‘A test of human limitation’

Days before his descent, Onda told Rappler in an interview that the importance of the expedition still hadn’t dawned on him. Even his family and friends did not know of the expedition until the news broke online. 

The Filipino scientist had gone to the Arctic, North Pole for past expeditions. Still, Onda admitted it was a “test of human limitation,” and expressed fascination of the technology that enabled them to make such an ambitious deep-sea expedition. 

PREP. Pre-dive briefing inside the DSSV Pressure Drop before Onda and Vescovo’s descent into the deep.
File photo from DSSV Pressure Drop/Facebook

DSV Limiting Factor, the submersible that Onda and Vescovo manned, was made of titanium to withstand the extreme pressure down the trench. Titanium is used in aircraft and spacecraft due to its durability. 

The UP MSI had compared the deep-sea voyage to early space expeditions. 

Filipino pride

There was a certain sense of pride from Filipinos as they watched a kababayan be part of the historical journey. In light of recent issues surrounding Philippine waters, Onda’s successful descent is a novelty.

“It’s good. I feel good [para sa] mga kababayan natin (for our fellow countrymen). I think there is really a need for something positive in these trying times,” Onda said of the attention around the voyage. 

But beyond pride, Onda has consistently brought up in many interviews what he calls the bigger picture: sovereignty over Philippine waters.

As a marine scientist, Onda has spent much of his career studying the underwater resources of the West Philippine Sea

The scientist said that the Emden Deep, although remote and seemingly unreachable, is still part of Philippine territories. 

“The vastness of the Philippine waters and the resources that we have…ranges from the highest mountains to the farthest seas in the west…but also to the depths in the Emden Deep,” he said in the interview, illustrating the country’s vast natural resources that Filipinos should protect.

For Onda, more than the achievement of a record-setting journey, the work has always been about pushing for his environmental and marine advocacies.

“Since a lot of people are interested in what I do now, it is a responsibility to use it properly, and for me, the way to use it is to push for my advocacies in the sciences, marine issues, in the environmental issues,” he said. –

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.