Rolex invested in planet’s preservation

Rolex invests in the time and effort that is channelled into the preservation of the planet. Debbie Hathway reports on its support for ocean conservation and the monitoring of the world’s weather systems.

It feels like I’ve been writing about hope for two years. It’s been a constant theme during the pandemic and something several watch brands cleaved to, not only to inspire their own creative teams, but also to motivate others during lockdown.

But the concept is not new for Mission Blue, a marine conservation organisation championed by Rolex as part of its Perpetual Planet initiative. Rolex and Mission Blue are committed to preserving the planet, united in their effort to “explore, restore, revive and guard” the world’s oceans. The international goal is to have 30% of our oceans protected by 2030.

Legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue.

Dr Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue and a Rolex Testimonee since 1982, introduced the idea of Hope Spots in a 2009 TED talk geared towards galvanising action to protect critical ocean ecosystems. Today, there are more than 130 Hope Spots, the most recent being one in the Azores, Portugal. “The Azores archipelago is a magnet for life. It really is a magical place. Launching the Azores as a Hope Spot is so logical – just ask the whales,” she says.

The archipelago provides rich feeding grounds for 25 cetacean species such as whales and porpoises, plus fish, coral gardens and sponges. However, the ecosystem is under pressure from fishing, coastal construction, marine transport and agriculture. “The Azores was named a Hope Spot in recognition of the collaborative efforts of the government, University of the Azores, organisations and community members. Together they are working to achieve increased marine protection and a growing comprehensive network of protected areas that extend from the surface of the sea all the way down to the deep sea floor,” says Sylvia.

What is a Hope Spot? It is a special place that is critical to the health of the ocean – the Earth’s blue heart – and, once acknowledged, it serves to recognise, empower and support people involved in its protection. “Like Rolex, I feel we have to continue our efforts towards a Perpetual Planet so that the marvels of the ocean in all its teeming diversity are not lost to future generations,” she adds. “Together we can make a difference.”

While approximately 12% of land on this planet is protected in some way, via national parks and the like, less than 5% of the ocean gets the same treatment. Mission Blue uses Hope Spots to shine a light on all areas that need protection, large or small, guarded or not. Even some protected sites still need help.

The DeepSee submersible and Mission Blue’s boat Argo at Darwin Island, Galápagos National Park.

Why ‘hope’? Because these spots have a special abundance or diversity of species (and unusual or representative species in particular), habitats or ecosystems; play host to rare, threatened or endemic species; exist on a site with potential to reverse damage from negative human impacts or are the location for natural spectacles such as major migrations or spawning grounds; and have historical, cultural or spiritual significance and economic value for the community.

Mission Blue is not a so-called voice in the wilderness either. It’s all up to you, the public, to nominate a site that gives hope. Once that site is fully designated, the nominee will become a global Hope Spots Champion tasked with igniting support for ocean conservation and making leaders and policymakers sit up and take notice.

In addition, Rolex helps to protect the oceans through a variety of partnerships and grants to individuals and organisations. These include Rolex Awards Laureates Barbara Block, Vreni Häussermann and Brad Norman, Rolex Awards Associate Laureate Emma Camp and global networks of marine scientists such as Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society.

The company also partners with the Monaco Blue Initiative, which unites experts, policymakers, business entrepreneurs and NGOs to discuss and highlight solutions to challenges in this environment. Furthermore, it has supported expeditions such as Under the Pole III, where teams have been “diving for science in some of the most remote and hostile places on Earth” since 2017. Their objectives: to research the mesophotic coral ecosystems that exist between 30m and 150m and to develop underwater exploration techniques.

Spirit of discovery

When Rolex Perpetual Planet activities are not immersed in the depths of the ocean, they’re headed in the opposite direction – skywards. In March 2021, under the Perpetual Planet Expeditions banner, a team of National Geographic explorers and scientists completed the installation of the highest weather station in the southern and western hemispheres.

The high-altitude expedition team assembles the world’s highest automated weather station at the Balcony on the southeast ridge of Mount Everest.

Located at 6,505m, the weather station is just below the summit of Tupungato Volcano in the southern Andes. It will add to the data being collected at another station in the upper Aconcagua basin at 4,400m (70km north-east of Santiago) and two at 4,400m and 5,750m on Tupungato, the neighbouring volcano.

“With the installation of the highest weather station in the Americas, scientists will have a window into atmospheric processes in the high Chilean Andes. One of the most vulnerable water towers in the world, these mountains provide critical freshwater to more than six million inhabitants in nearby Santiago. The expedition is contributing to a Perpetual Planet by pushing the limits of scientific discovery and exploration to the highest reaches of the planet,” says Dr Baker Perry, climate scientist, professor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, USA, and co-leader of the Tupungato Volcano expedition.

The project has the co-operation of the Chilean Government and leverages off the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Expedition to Mount Everest in 2019. This was the largest scientific expedition ever undertaken to the world’s highest mountain, resulting in the installation of the world’s highest weather station.

“Through our partnership with Rolex to study and explore the Earth’s critical life support systems, our ultimate goal is to use the new information and data gathered from the expeditions to support and elevate solutions that will restore balance to our ecosystems,” says Nicole Alexiev, vice president of science and innovation at the National Geographic Society.

The Tupungato Volcano project team was equipped with the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer II, an essential exploration tool inscribed with the word ‘Perpetual’, as is the norm for every Rolex Oyster watch. Not that there’s anything normal about these timepieces. Lauded for reliability, quality and robustness, Rolex previously supplied watches to the expedition that saw Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay summit Mount Everest.