Tween Boys Help Save a 500-million-year-old Species

WCSH Channel 6/Screen capture

Like all well-mannered children, Josiah Utsch and Ridgely Kelly know that respecting one's elders is an important virtue, even for adults. That may be why the two friends, both aged 12, have made it their mission to protect one of the planet's oldest species, half-a-billion years their senior, from becoming extinct at the hands of grown-ups.

Last year, Josiah ran across an article in the New York Times detailing the plight of the chambered nautilus, a colorfully-shelled cephalopod with roots dating so far back, it's often referred to as a 'living fossil'. After learning that the neat-looking nautilus was in danger of being wiped-out completely due to overfishing, the youngster from Cape Elizabeth, Maine knew something had to be done to stop it. It wasn't long before Josiah invited his friend Ridgely to join the cause -- not stopping for a moment to consider themselves too young to make a difference.

Soon, the conservation-minded 6th-graders began a campaign to raise awareness of the threats facing this primitive animal, namely from jewelry makers who can reap a hefty profit from the sale of these as decorative items. The pair even launched a website devoted to their cause, which, in turn, helped raise nearly $10,000 towards funding scientific research to better understand these rapidly dwindling organisms.

Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

Along with selling special "Save the Nautilus" t-shirts (designed by Ridgley) as a way of collecting funds, the boys also donated their own allowance money -- and encouraged others to do the same in lieu of gifts for their birthdays. As word spread, donations began pouring in from all over.

For University of Washington biology professor Peter Ward, an expert on nautiluses, the campaign started by Josiah and Ridgely has made a major contribution to conservation efforts, telling the Press-Herald:

"They have very much played a huge part in saving the nautilus."

Thanks to their efforts, thousands of folks who might otherwise never heard of nautiluses have been inspired by the pair's devotion to saving them; so far they've been featured on local news stations, newspapers, and even made an appearance in Time Magazine for Kids.

Despite their growing notoriety as some of the world's youngest eco-activists, Josiah and Ridgely are always sure to turn the public's attention back to the cause at hand, with a strong sense of clarity purpose not often found in folks even three or four times their age.

"It would be a tragedy to survive a ton of mass extinctions and have them wiped out by a human mass extinction," says Josiah.

When considering that two boys, who themselves entered the world just 12 years ago, can realize the importance of creating a better place for coming generations -- it's easy to suspect that the rest of us might have been showing too much respect to old ways of thinking, and not enough to our planet's oldest inhabitants.

Tags: Activism | Animals | Biology | Conservation | Maine | Oceans