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Who is Deo Onda – and What Did He Find in the Third Deepest Point of the Earth?


Space exploration has always been an interesting topic for many. In fact, the fascination of most kids who dream of becoming astronauts or scientists usually springs from seeing how marvelous the vastness of the universe is and from answering the numerous questions most adults find difficult to tackle – hence, often left dismissed by more urgent concerns.

But just as how unexplored most parts of our galaxies are, so as the two-thirds that make up the earth: our waters. Deep down below lies life that has gained much obsession among many but is pursued by only a few because of logistics, physical capacity, and other hindrances that limit the ability of man to make sense of the wonders underwater.

Fortunately, there are those who continue to make efforts to learn and create awareness among people of how beautiful this gift of nature is and what we are called to do as stewards of this creation.

Meet the First Filipino to Reach the Emdem Deep

On March 23, 2021, Dr. Deo Florence Onda made history as the first Filipino to reach the 10,400-meter Emdem Deep, located off the coasts of Siargao Island—the third deepest point on Earth. Far out in the open sea, the marine scientist emerged from the submersible and raised the Philippine flag, indicating the success of their expedition.

Dr. Onda works as a full-time microbial oceanographer from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, who puts his heart into studying marine microorganisms like bacteria and plankton, the interaction of these organisms within the marine ecosystem, and the effects they have on every aspect of human life.

He was born and raised in Brooke’s Point, Palawan, and had been long interested in the study of life but didn’t know how to go about things as there was no figure to look up to in his time. In fact, he had never heard of the profession that he was in. Come to think of it, most children would blurt medical doctor, police, priest, and the like when asked what they want to be upon growing up.

When Victor Vescovo, the current record holder of the deepest manned descent in the Marianas Trench in 2019, organized the expedition, Dr. Onda thought that he would just be observing from the boat. It was not until they went through medical tests a month before the excursion that it dawned on him that he was meant to dive with the submersible. Neither his family nor his girlfriend knew about what he was about to take on.

The Emden Deep Expedition was initiated by the private organization, Caladan Oceanic, owned by Vescovo. They began their voyage on March 15 from the port of Guam through the DSSV Drop — the only marine vessel invented which is capable of transporting humans to dive repeatedly to the deepest parts of the world’s oceans by way of the deep-sea submersible DSV “Limiting Factor”.

The entire expedition took 12 hours, which included descending, exploring, and getting back to the surface. With its advanced technology, the journey going down was comfortable. However, upon losing light and gaining air pressure, the team had to wear winter clothes and boots to survive the 2-5 °C temperature.

What Did Dr. Deo Onda Find at the Third Deepest Point of the Earth?

While it sure felt like a dream come true to finally get a chance to explore the world underwater, reality burst Dr. Onda’s bubbles. Deep down in the Emden, the team inside the submersible thought that they had found some creepy creatures lurking in the deep. But no, it was no Stranger Things creature. It was a teddy bear.

And along with that stuffed toy are objects that were not meant to be there, deep down under the sea. As they got closer to the walls of the trench, they saw a floating object that looked like a jellyfish – only that it was plastic. It was the first of the many pieces that they found as they went deeper into the trench. As per Vescovo, it was one of the dirtiest trenches he’d been to.

As Dr. Onda puts it in an interview: “The plastic was a manifestation of our life on Earth. We were the first humans there, but human contamination was there long before us.” But what’s more heartbreaking is that this plastic can greatly affect life underwater, the ocean, and the people who are reliant on it—as we are all connected in this loop of life.

As we scroll through social media, we see photos of turtles, whales, dolphins, and other marine creatures struggling for life because of our plastic waste. Imagine what else it could bring to the microorganisms struggling underwater.

Maybe there’s wisdom in the adage: ignorance is bliss. Something you don’t know won’t hurt you. It is probably the reason why human beings are so limited is that we are not ready to face the realities that come with our actions. We refuse to see the repercussions because we are creatures of comfort—and dealing with problems is not our forte. We mask the real issues with a lighter note to make things seem bearable.

But as we get to see how nature is slowly taking a hold of its possessions and in the many natural calamities we’ve experienced, maybe it’s about time to take a closer look at our wrongdoings.

The world may see Emdem Deep as the third deepest point on the Earth, but to us Filipinos, it is part of our nation’s heritage. Hence, it is our moral obligation to make a stand to help protect, preserve, and conserve our Philippine environment if we want the upcoming generation to experience it the way we did.

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