Cover Photo: Courtesy of Rolex

It was a monumental task: to select the five most deserving candidates for the 2019 Rolex Awards for Enterprise from a shortlist of nearly 1,000

Rolex, a firm supporter of explorers and individuals who discover more about our planet and who find ways to preserve the natural world, has launched the Perpetual Planet campaign this year to further its commitment to maintaining the well-being of the earth.

Here, we meet the five Rolex laureates whose inspiring projects will improve life as we know it.

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Krithi Karanth, 40

The conservation scientist wants to reduce friction between wildlife and people living near Indian national parks. There are numerous cases of conflict between humans and animals every year, resulting in damage, injury and death on both sides. Karanth’s team aims to mitigate the situation by reducing threats, raising awareness of conservation, educating local communities and assisting with compensation claims through a toll-free helpline.

“We’ve implemented this system at a local level successfully and we want to scale it upwards,” she says. “We are now in two of India’s premier parks and we hope to move into six more parks. Fundamentally, the toll-free helpline can be systemised. What is more important: if someone calls, you have to show up at the scene soon after. We are happy to share this idea with anyone in the world.”

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Grégoire Courtine, 44

The Switzerland-based French scientist has met many young people paralysed by serious sports injuries. An avid sportsman himself, he is developing an electronic bridge to be implanted between a patient’s brain and lumbar spinal cord. The bridge, supported by wireless technology, will link brain signals controlling voluntary movement with electrical stimulation of the lower spinal cord. This has the potential to encourage nerve regrowth and restore control of the legs.

“If treatment is started early, then there is a good chance of recovery,” he says. “It will help the paralysed to walk and their nerve fibres to grow again, so an individual can walk without electrical stimulation.”

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Brian Gitta, 26

Life-threatening Malaria is prevalent worldwide and the key to treating it is early detection. Many people, especially children, die from it because accurate test results take time to process, which leads to delayed treatment. The Ugandan technologist is working on a novel low-cost portable device that uses light and magnets to give a reliable reading without drawing blood.

“The device can be supplied to district and national hospitals,” he says. “Right now, it’s 80 per cent accurate, and we and are aiming to get it to be 90 per cent accurate.”

João Campos-Silva, 36

The giant arapaima, the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish, faces extinction due to overfishing and other effects of human activity. The Brazilian fisheries biologist is working closely with local communities and fishing leaders to save it. After seeing a 30-fold recovery in arapaima numbers in South America’s Juruá River, he plans to extend the plan to 60 other communities to help save their livelihoods, food supply and culture.

“Arapaima management brings in good income [for the local communities], and protects the forest and ensures its development,” he says. “This model is not a top‑down strategy but a bottom-up one.”

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Miranda Wang, 25

Much of the plastic waste we produce cannot be recycled, ending up in landfills and polluting the environment. The Canadian entrepreneur and molecular biologist has invented an upcycling process that breaks non-recyclable polyethylene plastic waste down into simpler chemical compounds that can be used in industrial and consumer products.

“We’ve invented a new process that’s sustainable and economical for making high-value industrial chemicals from these plastics,” she says.

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