Research for sustaining our planet
About 100 years ago, expeditions usually concerned the undiscovered, unknown and unseen that needed to be discovered, explored and rendered visible and had to be physically reached in the first place. Modern expeditions often take a different approach. Today, scientists and researchers focus less on pure discovery and more on conservation. The goal is often to gain insights that can help to preserve our planet, analyse environmental problems and find answers — and expeditions are part of the solution.
Rolex and researchers – a long story
For nearly a century, Rolex has supported pioneers in exploration and discovery who extend the limits of what is feasible. With the “Perpetual Planet” campaign, launched in 2019, the Swiss luxury watch manufacturer commits to supporting researchers in their endeavours to protect the environment.
Rolex and researchers — that is a long story. Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf has frequently supported unusual research projects, also to test the reliability of his watches under extreme conditions. The British Mount Everest expedition in 1933 was equipped with Rolex watches, just like the expedition of Sir John Hunt in 1953, during which Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of the highest mountain in the world.
In 1960, Rolex equipped the expedition of the Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, who together with Don Walsh, a Lieutenant of the United States Navy, steered the diving vessel Trieste to the deepest depth of the sea: to 10,916 metres below sea level in the Mariana Trench. Attached to the outer shell of the Bathyscaphe was the “Deep Sea Special”, an experimental Rolex watch that was technically equivalent to the Rolex Oyster. It worked without a flaw during all phases of the expedition. Piccard telegraphed to Rolex: “Happy to announce that your watch works as well at 11,000 metres as it does on the surface.”
When film director James Cameron, Rolex Testimonee, repeated the feat of the Trieste crew during a solo mission, the experimental diving watch “Rolex Deepsea Challenge” was mounted on the hydraulic arm of his diving vessel. This watch too survived the extreme stress without damage — the water pressure at eleven kilometres depth is about 1080 bar, corresponding to more than a tonne of weight per square centimetre.
The big question: how do we sustain our planet?
Rolex launched the “Perpetual Planet” campaign in 2019 to continue what its company founder, Hans Wilsdorf, initiated a long time ago: active cooperation with researchers and scientists who have unusually innovative, ground-breaking approaches in order to help answer a big question of our times. Here and now, this question is: how do we sustain our planet? What do we have to do?
One part of “Perpetual Planet” is the Rolex Awards for Enterprise. Another one is the partnership with the National Geographic Society. With the “Perpetual Planet” partnership, Rolex and National Geographic aim to raise awareness of critical life support systems the Earth has to cope with, to support research and exploration of these systems and to help top opinion leaders around the world to develop solutions to protect the planet. The third component is the “Mission Blue” initiative of the US marine research pioneer and Rolex Testimonee Sylvia Earle. Earle has been lobbying governments for almost a decade to establish marine protection areas called “Hope Spots”. These reservations have outstanding biodiversity, are habitats for particularly endangered animals — or need to be preserved because they are vital for the survival of the human population in their region.
As a partner of the National Geographic Society, Rolex supports a number of expeditions to explore how human activity affects the environment. From April to June 2019, an initial research group went to Mount Everest to study the impact of climate change on the glaciers of the Himalayas.
Rolex Awards for Enterprise — awarded since 1976
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise were first presented in 1976 to mark the 50-year anniversary of the introduction of the Rolex Oyster, the first waterproof wristwatch in the world. Since then, Rolex has awarded the prize every two years; to date, more than 34,000 women and men have applied for the award. The decision is made by an international jury, which is reconstituted each time. Previous members have included Everest first-ascender Sir Edmund Hillary and Junko Tabei, the first woman to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain, as well as environmentalist and former WWF president Yolanda Kakabadse, Chris Hadfield, a former commander of the International Space Station ISS, geneticist Steve Jones and oceanographer and researcher Sylvia Earle.
Unlike many other awards and scholarships, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise recognise achievements that have not yet been completed — to support new and ongoing projects and to enable their continuation and expansion. The prizes are awarded in a total of five areas: environment, science & health, applied technology, cultural heritage and exploration.
An entomologist who started as a taxi driver
Requirement for applicants: a minimum age of 18 years. Explicitly no specific academic education or professional qualifications are required and there are no restrictions regarding gender or nationality.
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise support people who often work outside the scientific community and who therefore lack the kind of funding opportunities that are available to established researchers. Many of the award-winners’ CVs are therefore unusual. Like the one for Pierre Morvan: a Paris taxi driver, who is a passionate amateur entomologist and has discovered hundreds of ground beetle species in Nepal. Morvan received the Rolex Award for Enterprise, quit taxi driving and made important contributions to the study of life in the Nepalese mountains as an entomologist.
150 women and men were honoured since the prize was first awarded in 1976. The award winners receive support for the continuation of their projects as well as access to the Rolex network — which helps many award winners to advance their projects by receiving support from like-minded people.
In 2019, one Rolex Award for Enterprise each went to Canada, Switzerland, Brazil, Uganda and India. The Canadian molecular biologist Miranda Wang was honoured for developing technical processes that enable chemical raw materials to be recycled from previously non-recyclable plastic waste. Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist who works in Switzerland, has succeeded in enabling paraplegics to walk again with the help of an electronic implant.
The project of the Brazilian fisheries biologist João Campos-Silva aims to save the giant Aparaima fish from extinction. Brian Gitta from Uganda is currently developing a better and above all faster malaria test that analyses blood without taking blood samples. The initiative of Krithi Karanth aims to reduce conflicts between humans and wild animals in India — as a first step through more efficient compensation payments, for example when a predator has killed livestock.
18 million trees planted
The achievements of the award winners to date can actually be quantified. Projects chosen for Rolex awards, which were largely conservation-oriented, have planted 18 million trees and protected 25 endangered species and 21 relevant ecosystems, including 57,600 square kilometres of the Amazon rainforest. Hundreds of new species have been discovered, a total of 13 expeditions have been completed and 32 innovative technology developments have been implemented. For the benefit of humanity and the planet: the projects of the Rolex Award winners have benefited approximately five million people in all parts of the world
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