The Laureates of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise are bound by a singular passion – to discover and protect our world.
For more than 40 years, the Awards have selected individuals of exceptional courage, skill and determination to help in the perpetual quest to explore, understand, guard and cherish the Earth we inhabit and all it holds.
Throughout history, civilization has been forged by people of inspiration and singular motivation: As a company that prizes timeless excellence, Rolex conceived the idea of recognizing and supporting such individuals, not when their achievements were complete, but while they were still in their formative stages. Our goal is to enable the birth of great discoveries, ideas and deliver practical benefit to humanity and the planet.
The Rolex Awards are a central pillar of Perpetual Planet – Rolex’s commitment to support key organizations and individuals who explore and safeguard our world – at a time when many forces, such as climate change, are combining to imperil it.
The Awards honour, promote and encourage pioneers in the fields of environment, exploration, science and health, cultural heritage and applied technology. Since they were established in 1976, more than 34,000 people from 191 countries have applied and 140 have been chosen. Together the Laureates have ventured into the world’s most forbidding places, acquired new knowledge, vanquished formidable hardships, generated fresh solutions to great challenges and delivered benefit to both humanity and the natural world.
Rolex Laureates are chosen through a meticulous process that involves peer review, assessment, interview and evaluation of the likelihood of their project achieving its aims. This generates a short-list of candidates from whom an independent jury of eminent explorers, scientists, entrepreneurs and educators convened from around the globe selects five new Laureates every two years. Each Laureate receives a substantial financial grant to support his or her project, and the benefit of wide publicity that both attracts fresh support and inspires others. Rolex places a high value on communicating and sharing the discoveries and achievements of the Laureates with society at large.
Francesco Sauro and Hosam Zowawi
Caves reveal their secrets
Italian geologist Francesco Sauro and Saudi medical scientist Hosam Zowawi have ventured deep into the unexplored caverns of South America’s ‘Lost World’, inside the table-top mountains of the Amazonian rainforest. In the ancient, unexplored quartzite caverns carved into the mountains by the slow action of water, geology and biology over tens of millions of years they hope for fresh insights about how the Earth was formed and how life has developed. The discovery of novel life forms might also yield clues as to the evolution of antibiotic resistance that threatens modern medicine.
A great heart and abiding love of nature impelled Brazilian conservationist José Márcio Ayres to establish one of the world's largest protected rainforest areas, nearly 11,240 square kilometres, in the Amazon jungle. Though Ayres has now died, his team lives on, extending the area protected to 57,000 square kilometres, with the help of its 13,500 indigenous inhabitants who manage it sustainably for ecotourism, conservation research, sustainable fishing and timber management.
Mark Kendall was on his way to becoming a rocket scientist. Then the Australian engineer turned his talents to medical science and, using his knowledge of fluid mechanics, invented a method to deliver vaccine via a patch applied to the skin. The method not only dispenses with the dreaded needle and syringe but also the need to keep vaccine refrigerated. His Nanopatch has the potential to spare the lives of the 17 million people who die of infectious diseases every year. Pre-clinical trials for the Nanopatch, using polio vaccine, are being conducted by the World Health Organization.
In the frigid, disintegrating world of the Greenland Ice Cap a hidden life consisting of billions of microorganisms flourishes. British glaciologist Joseph Cook is racing the clock amid hostile conditions to discover how these tiny organisms, which form vast blooms each spring, may influence the fate of polar ice, the weather of the northern hemisphere and even the planet itself, as it heats under climate change. The blooms create dark patches of ice that warm more rapidly, accelerating the rate of melting and sea level rise.
Veterinarian Olivier Nsengimana is helping his home country of Rwanda emerge as a paradigm for future African conservation activity, using the majestic grey crowned-crane as a living emblem of the need to restore the country’s wetlands and natural habitat. With many of the endangered cranes in private collections, his organization carried out a census of surviving birds and has supervised their return to the wild. He has also established a crane sanctuary and a programme to combat poaching and create wilderness refuges for the birds.
Out of the dark, chill waters of the Patagonian fjords in southernmost South America, strange unknown corals and sea creatures are coming to light under the persistent investigation of German-Chilean scientist Vreni Häussermann. Through hundreds of dives and now, robotic exploration of this remote corner of our Planet, she is revealing to the world and to science a wealth of marine biodiversity never before seen. At the same time, she observes the subtle, growing impacts of human activity that imperil it – and campaigns tenaciously for its protection.
In Tunisia, North Africa, social entrepreneur Sarah Toumi is locked in battle with the Sahara Desert, leading a forest army to defeat its relentless spread. By training local farmers in sustainable practices, she has encouraged the planting of over 300,000 trees – acacias, olives, almonds and moringa – to reclaim land that was turning to barren sand. Backed by a team of 50 local and international scientific experts and institutions, she is working out the best ways to restore fertility and life to lands threatened by the global scourge of desertification.
On the coast of Maine, North America, a vanished seabird is making a dramatic reappearance. The iconic puffin disappeared from coastal islands in the 1880s but now, thanks to meticulous study of its habits and reintroductions by ornithologist Stephen Kress, it has returned. His success in inducing a wild bird to recolonize its abandoned range has created a model for the reintroduction of endangered birds all over the world which is helping to restore 48 species in 14 countries.
Australian marine biologist Brad Norman has pioneered a planet-wide photo-identification system in which thousands of volunteer citizen scientists are contributing to discovery of the secret life of the largest fish in the oceans, the mysterious and endangered whale shark. Teaming with British Laureate Rory Wilson, the two have also equipped these gentle giants with small electronic monitoring devices to reveal their cryptic behaviour out of sight of human eyes, providing data that will inform strategies to protect them.