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Protecting the sea: the Rolex Awards for Enterprise

With more than game-changing 500 patents under its belt, Rolex is all too aware of the need to be visionary and think outside the box. The Oyster case designed to protect the mechanism inside from water ingress is a prime example. “No system had been completely effective until Rolex patented a reliable crown in 1926 and so the Oyster was born – its water resistance proven when Mercedes Gleitze completed her 10-hour swim of the English Channel with one around her neck. Five years later came a second milestone, when Rolex presented an automatic movement in an Oyster case which created an even more effective hermetic seal as there was less winding and so the screw crown was subject to less stress,” wrote Giampiero Negretti in an article in the very first issue of Sea Time. 

Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup

From that moment onward, Rolex’s progress was unstoppable. Nature proved a formidable ally and an extraordinary test bench for new solutions that made its timepieces increasingly reliable and accurate in even the most extreme conditions. Rolex continues to look to Mother Nature, albeit with different eyes, seeing her now as more to be nurtured and protected than as a place to push its own frontiers. Hence the idea to found Perpetual Planet project in 2019 to support organisations and others using science to tackle environmental issues. 

Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master 42

These include the winners of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which together with Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue programme, form one of the three pillars of the Perpetual Planet initiative. “Rolex has been conscious of its responsibilities for some time now: to making its own contribution to creating a sustainable plant, a perpetual planet,” declared Rolex Image and Communications Director Arnaud Boetsch. “Rather than exploring new territories, the new generation of explorers is committed to protecting the planet. The five winners are fine examples of these guardians of the future”. The 2021 award winners include Luiz Rocha selected for his dedication to protecting coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. Located at great depths, these are mostly still unknown and increasingly under threat from pollution. The Maldives-based Brazilian scientist has more than 6,000 dive hours and 70 scientific expeditions to his credit, freely admitting that he has devoted his life to the sea. 

Luiz Rocha 2021 Rolex Awards Laureate Luiz Rocha works to explore and protect mesophotic coral reefs and their biodiversity in the Indian Ocean, and to strengthen conservation of these largely unknown ecosystems.

“I decided I wanted to be a biologist at five or six. The ocean has always attracted me and I loved watching marine life,” he told us. Recent studies have shown that up to 10 new species are discovered per dive hour in what are known as the Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems of the Pacific Ocean which survive in areas of low-light penetration. Rocha’s goal is to literally bring to light unknown life forms in the Indian Ocean. “Even though no one has seen them yet, we know they are there,” he confirmed. The project is supported by the Maldivian Ministry for Fisheries and will span three expeditions spread over two years. 

A blue shark in the waters off of the Princess Alice Bank, a seamount southwest of Faial Island in the Azores Archipelago. The archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean was recently named a ‘Hope Spot’.

All incredibly complex endeavours requiring meticulous preparation but hopefully leading to the discovery of previously unmapped barrier reefs. They will also be conducted at great depths, so high tech equipment is required, including rebreathers to recycle breathing gas exhaled by divers after filtering out the carbon dioxide. But such effort is more than justified by the fact that coral reefs of all kinds are amongst the most biodiverse areas of the planet with almost 25% of all marine life dependent on them for at least one part of their life cycle. Sadly, they are also increasingly under threat from intensive fishing, microplastics and rising water temperatures. The time to act is now. 

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