Cover Marine biologist and explorer Sylvia Earle has studied the sea for more than 50 years (Photo: Kip Evans Photography)

Backed by Rolex, Sylvia Earle is determined to protect our oceans with her Mission Blue initiative

In September 1979, oceanographer Sylvia Earle was strapped to the front of a small submarine and dropped into the Pacific Ocean off the Hawaiian island of Oahu. When she reached the seabed and unfastened herself, Earle was 381 metres beneath the surface, setting the world record for the deepest untethered dive.

The marine biologist and explorer has worked tirelessly to bring attention to the crisis in our oceans. She’s been a Rolex ambassador since 1982, and her most ambitious project, Mission Blue, is backed by the watchmaker as part of its Perpetual Planet initiative, which was launched in 2019 to help redefine our relationship with the blue planet by finding solutions to Earth’s environmental challenges.

The word “perpetual” holds a special place in the vocabulary of Rolex. For nearly a century, it’s been inscribed on every Oyster watch built at the company’s manufacture in Switzerland. Used to describe something that never ends, the “perpetual” philosophy has come to reinforce the watchmaker’s conservation efforts. Since the 1930s, brand founder Hans Wilsdorf has supported intrepid explorers, mountaineers and scientists as well as their quests to the toughest places on Earth. Perpetual Planet has become a way for Rolex to continue Wilsdorf’s legacy.

See also: Meet Chi Hang Wong, The Collector Who Gives Away His Rolex Watches

Part of the initiative is the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which supports industry leaders with technologies that improve lives, save endangered ecosystems, protect the oceans, explore new frontiers or pioneer advances in science and health. The brand is also collaborating with the National Geographic Society to generate solutions for a more sustainable future for generations to come. This partnership began in 1954, in the wake of the first successful ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, whose expedition was equipped with Oyster Perpetual chronometers.

Not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do something to make a difference
Sylvia Earle

Earle’s Mission Blue, meanwhile, aims to safeguard the oceans through designated areas called Hope Spots, which are ecologically vulnerable areas of the ocean that are in need of protection. Mission Blue has been receiving support from Rolex since 2014 and has since increased the number of Hope Spots around the world from 50 to more than 130. Less than eight per cent of the oceans are currently protected, and it is Earle’s goal to help protect 30 per cent of the oceans by 2030, which is the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s recommended target for safeguarding ocean health.

“No species has changed the oceans more than humans,” Earle explains. “We change the nature of nature, take fish from the oceans on an industrial scale, and leave them awash with plastics. It is getting better, but it’s also getting more urgent because we’re now seeing potentially irreversible changes. That means the extinction of species. It means that you have passed a point of no return.”

See also: Waste, Unmasked: How Covid-19 Masks Have Affected The Environment

It’s been almost 18 months since the first reported Covid-19 case and many of us are asking whether social restrictions have given nature a chance to restore itself. Empty streets have resulted in big drops in air pollution, which are likely to reduce early deaths from lung and heart conditions, and the quieter streets have encouraged wildlife to venture into some towns. Industrial pollution in China, the world’s biggest source of carbon emissions, were down about 18 per cent between early February and mid-March last year—a cut of 250 million metric tonnes. While the effects of the steepest slowdown in human activity since the Second World War may not last forever, it’s never been more important to protect what we can.

“Since I began exploring the oceans in the 1950s, I have been driven by a sense of urgency about what I can do as a scientist and as a human being to join with other human beings to say I can do this or that to make a difference ... to go from consuming the natural world to saying enough already,” says Earle. “There is plenty of reason for hope. It starts with people understanding that we have impacts on the ocean and knowing why it matters.

“Like Rolex, I feel that the time has come to make a stand for a perpetual planet so that the marvels of the ocean in all its teeming diversity are not lost to future generations. Everyone can do something. Not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do something to make a difference.”

See also: Heads Above Water: Why Are Hong Kong's Green Turtles Disappearing?