Rolex and oceanographer Sylvia Earle create another Hope Spot to help protect oceans

by Petrol Mum

Rolex stands for more than just luxury time pieces and over the past decades they have been partnering with organisations and individuals to help protect the planet. The initiative is known as Perpetual Planet and harks back to the founder of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf.

For Hans the world was like a living laboratory. From the 1930s, he began to use it as a testing ground for his Oyster Perpetual watches, sending them to the most extreme locations, supporting explorers who ventured into the unknown. As the 21st century unfolds, exploration for pure discovery has given way to exploration as a means to preserve the natural world.

At Rolex, the word “Perpetual” is more than a word on a dial. It encompasses the vision and values of Hans Wilsdorf to always seek to achieve excellence, to break boundaries and help build a better world. By helping to create a sustainable planet – a Perpetual Planet – Rolex is continuing Hans Wilsdorf’s legacy.

Mission Blue and Rolex

One of the organisations supported as part of Perpetual Planet is Mission Blue, which has the aim to a global network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) called Hope Spots. Sylvia Earle, legendary marine explorer and a Rolex Testimonee since 1982, launched Mission Blue after winning a 2009 TED prize for her “vision to spark global change”.

In 2014, Rolex became a partner of her organisation as part of a commitment to help protect the oceans. The Hope Spots are ecologically important areas of the oceans considered vital to the preservation of species or places where communities rely on a healthy marine environment to survive. Key to the programme is the empowerment of local people to make change by creating a global wave of community support for ocean conservation.

Individuals, local governments or community organisations can nominate an area for Hope Spot status by filling out a detailed form on Applications are assessed by a team at Mission Blue and then put to the Hope Spot Council, which is comprised of marine scientists and policy experts. The council sits three times a year.

Essential to a successful application is evidence of support from community and conservation organisations, as well as a “Champion”, a person or organisation who can represent the area nominated on a scientific and policy level. The Champion conducts research projects and coordinates action in a Hope Spot by meeting government, business and community leaders, running advocacy events and working with children of all ages.

Once applications for Hope Spot status are approved by the council, work begins on a launch plan with local communities intended to put the area on a global stage, raise awareness about the issues at hand and provide bottom-up pressure on policymakers to create and enforce MPAs. Hope Spots can be established in areas where no formal protection exists or in MPAs where more action is needed. Furthermore, a legal framework is not necessary as long as the community comes together to protect the area. The ultimate goal, however, is to have a legally enforced MPA.

From just a concept of preserving the oceans 12 years ago, Mission Blue now comprises a California-based staff, a diverse board of directors, a scientific advisory council and a wide coalition of partners. Since 2009, more than 130 Hope Spots have been recognized around the world, with 21 created in 2019 alone. Mission Blue now works directly with communities in more than 69 countries to restore and protect their unique ocean environments. It implements communications campaigns through documentaries, social media, traditional media and tools like Esri ArcGIS for visualising maps.

Over the past 12 years, the organisation has also undertaken 30 expeditions with local partners and scientists to gather data and to create visual content that highlights discoveries, conservation challenges and cutting-edge science that will assist in ocean advocacy with stories and findings shared on Mission Blue’s digital platform.

The Azores added to Mission Blue Hope Spots

The most recent location to be added to the Hope Spots network is the Azores an important deep-sea ecosystem that attracts 25 species of cetaceans such as whales and porpoises that find rich feeding grounds among the archipelago’s concealed seamounts. Hundreds of species of fish, along with coral gardens and sponges, also thrive in the warmer waters delivered via a branch of the Gulf Stream.

However, this rich ecosystem is under pressure from human activities including fishing, coastal construction, marine transport and agriculture. The Azorean people are well aware of the importance of a healthy marine environment and many are involved in ecotourism. In the 1980s, the Regional Government established several small, dispersed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). In 2019, it went further. In collaboration with the Oceano Azul Foundation and the Waitt Institute, it announced the Blue Azores programme, with the goal of creating a network of fully protected MPAs covering 15 per cent of the Azorean Sea. To accomplish this, they are developing innovative studies and approaches, contributing to the sustainable management of fisheries, supporting scientific processes and implementing a ‘blue literacy’ programme for schools, among other activities.

For legendary oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle, Founder of marine conservation organization Mission Blue, “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.” Whales and porpoises will be among hundreds of marine species to benefit from a new Mission Blue ‘Hope Spot’ in Portugal’s Azores Archipelago, a grand oasis in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean known for its rare and richly valuable ecological and biological qualities.

Sylvia Earle expresses Mission Blue’s affinity with the company, “Like Rolex, I feel that 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 says. “Together we can make a difference.”

“The Azores Archipelago was named a Hope Spot in recognition of the collaborative efforts of the government, University of the Azores, organizations 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 seafloor.”

Rolex is also helping to protect the oceans through a variety of partnerships and grants. These include individuals such as Rolex Awards Laureates Barbara Block, Vreni Häussermann and Brad Norman, as well as 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 that brings together experts, policymakers and business entrepreneurs along with local and international NGOs, to discuss and highlight solutions to current and future challenges of ocean management and conservation. Additionally, it has supported individual expeditions such as Under The Pole III. Since 2017, the team has been exploring the oceans to study the mesophotic coral ecosystems that exist between 30 and 150 metres and advance underwater exploration techniques.

Photographs by Rolex.

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