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Tuesday, June 28, 2016 Serving Maine and Lincoln County for over a century. Volume 141 Issue 25

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11/21/2013 11:54:00 AM
Bremen Boy Journeys to Far Lands on Environmental Quest
Ridgely Kelly, 12, of Bremen, holds the plaque that recognizes him as a 2013 recipient of The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. (J.W. Oliver photo)
Ridgely Kelly, 12, of Bremen, holds the plaque that recognizes him as a 2013 recipient of The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. (J.W. Oliver photo)
J.W. Oliver

A Bremen boy has raised $20,000 and traveled 7,500 miles to the South Pacific in his effort to protect the nautilus, a rare deep-sea creature.

Ridgely Kelly, 12, a seventh-grader at The Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb, founded Save the Nautilus with his friend, Josiah Utsch, 13, of Bozeman, Mont., in the fall of 2011.

The boys adopted the cause after reading an article in The New York Times about the threat the ancient creature faces as a result of the nautilus fishery. The fishery supplies the nautilus shell to the jewelry industry, which uses it as a pearl substitute.

The nautilus is a descendant of the ancient nautiloid, a creature that appears in the fossil record about 500 million years ago, a genealogy that pre-dates the dinosaurs and has inspired scientists to dub the nautilus a "living fossil."

Josiah and Ridgely set a goal to raise $15,000 toward an effort to conduct a worldwide census of the nautilus, necessary to regulate the nautilus fishery and trade.

The Lincoln County News featured Ridgely and his efforts in January 2011, shortly after the launch of Save the Nautilus.

At the time, the boys had about $2,000 on hand in donations from relatives and strangers around the country. Now, that number stands at $20,000.

The boys traveled to Seattle in fall 2012 to hand the first $10,000 to Dr. Peter Ward, a scientist and nautilus expert at the forefront of the census effort.

The scientist and his research team spent the money on underwater cameras necessary to observe and count the nautilus. The expensive cameras can withstand the pressure in the deep waters where the nautilus roams.

Ridgely and Josiah joined the research team on the island territory of American Samoa in February. The boys helped Ward make nautilus traps. He and his team study and tag the specimens before releasing them alive.

"It's been really fun to get involved with the actual research," Ridgely said in a Nov. 7 interview.

The results from the waters around American Samoa were encouraging, with little evidence of the over-fishing prevalent in the Philippines.

"We have a population count from Australia, Fiji, the Philippines, American Samoa, and then we have plans to possibly go to Palau, so there are still more places that we need to go to, but we have a good sample of that area," Ridgely said.

The census has a wide area to cover, as nautilus habitat extends north to Japan and south to Australia. If the census establishes the nautilus as endangered, it could result in measures to regulate the fishery and restrict the international trade.

According to Ridgely, "that's why the research is so important, because we need actual proof" of the creature's dwindling numbers.

Back home, the boys continued fundraising. Save the Nautilus has benefited from international media attention, including a January 2012 cover story in Time for Kids.

The publicity "really makes a difference," Ridgely said, and Save the Nautilus frequently receives donations from people who read about it and send checks. In one case, a third-grade class in Kentucky held a bake sale for the cause.

The publicity also encourages people to participate in another important initiative of Save the Nautilus, a letter-writing campaign and online petition to pressure U.S. companies to discontinue sales of nautilus-shell jewelry.

A major outlet for these sales is the eBay Inc. website, and Ridgely believes the letters can persuade the online-auction giant to adopt a change in policy. "EBay doesn't sell ivory, so I think it wouldn't be too much of a stretch not to sell nautilus shells," he said.

The majority of nautilus sales take place in the U.S., so if people hear about the plight of the nautilus and stop buying the jewelry, "the trade will definitely slow down," Ridgely said.

In September, Ridgely and Josiah's efforts received a major boost in the form of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes.

Every year, the prize recognizes 25 "inspiring" young Americans who make "a significant positive difference to people and our planet," according to the organization.

The prize comes with a $5,000 award, which recipients can spend on their education or give to charity. The boys funneled their $5,000 directly into Save the Nautilus.

Save the Nautilus has since presented a second $10,000 to Ward, bringing its fundraising total to date to $20,000. The money will go directly to the census effort, to charter a boat and pay for more nautilus traps and research expenses.

Ward finds a source of encouragement in Ridgely and Josiah's work.

"Two boys going out of their way, and their adolescence, to make the adult choice to try to save things is a bright, unvarnished hope," he said in an email to The Lincoln County News. "Maybe it is because they are not adults that they are making clear and world-saving choices."

Josiah and Ridgely hope to join the team in Palau, a tiny island nation east of the Philippines, next. "We are really hopeful about Palau and, if not Palau, maybe Australia," Ridgely said.

For more information and updates, like Save the Nautilus on Facebook or visit

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