Nicole Yamase is the first Pacific Islander, the third woman, and, at 29, the second-youngest person to visit Challenger Deep, the deepest known part of the Mariana Trench.
The roughly 50km-long, 6km-wide Challenger Deep lies within the waters of Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) where Nicole calls home.
Nicole is a marine scientist studying a PhD on the effects of climate change on macroalgae and nearshores marine plants at the University of Hawaii.
Her experience in this field afforded her the opportunity to explore a place that has been visited by fewer people than have flown to the moon. A place thats Pitch black, 11km down and takes 10 hours to travel down to.
Yamese said the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the depths of the ocean that sustained her ancestors, made her feel more connected to her culture and appreciate the complementary nature of science and traditional knowledge.
“Our ancestors were scientists from the very beginning. They observed and collected data … they tested and tried new things,” she expressed.
This Micronesian trailblazer hopes her experience will inspire Pacific Island women to pursue STEM and higher education.
“If I can do it,” she said, “they can do it too.” And while women traditionally stayed near the shore, she called her experience a way to break gender boundaries and expectations.
“We belong on shore,” said Yamase. “We belong all the way at the bottom, and everywhere in between too.”