If you journeyed far out into the Pacific Ocean and down to a depth of 1,200 feet, you might be lucky enough to spy a creature that looks like a giant seashell mated with an octopus. The chambered nautilus can trace its ancestry back 500 million years, but it is now endangered and hunted for its shell. What the nautilus will never know is that thousands of miles away, a landlocked senior at CRMS is fighting to protect it and has been since he was 11 years old.
“Back then I read an article in The New York Times about how the Nautilus was going extinct,” says Josiah Utsch. “It’s a creature that has survived every major mass extinction, and the fact that humans were killing it off in just 50 years was deplorable.”
Utsch searched in vain for an organization dedicated to protecting the cephalopod. After connecting by email with Dr. Peter Ward, one of the nautilus’s preeminent researchers, Utsch decided to found the nonprofit conservation organization, Save the Nautilus. With the help of parents, a web designer, and a fellow co-founder, Utsch set out to raise awareness. “So often what I find is that there’s a lack of awareness, so I’ll speak to what the Nautilus is and why it needs to be protected.”
Until recently China and the U.S. have allowed the nautilus import trade for frivolous purposes. Utsch has seen their shells featured on mantles, used as gravy boats, and in one unfortunate situation used as an inlay on a toilet seat.
“My grandfather actually owned nautilus shells and had no clue that they were endangered,” says Utsch. “It wasn’t like elephant ivory or some other famous endangered animal. But just because the nautilus isn’t plush or cute doesn’t mean that it deserves less protection. The Nautilus is no less important to its ecosystem.”
Since founding Save the Nautilus, Utsch’s work has been featured in national media. He’s spoken at schools from Maine to Los Angeles, met with the assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, and worked with aquariums in Washington, D.C. His efforts have helped add the nautilus to both the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’s protection list in 2016 and the Endangered Species List in 2017. Utsch also has raised over $30,000 toward funding critical research expeditions. Utsch has even tagged along on some of those expeditions. Last summer, he traveled to Fiji with Dr. Ward where they discovered a new species.
“I got to take notes and measurements, and we sometimes had to hand-reel up traps from 1,200 feet deep,” Utsch says. “It was the real experience of research, and the trip solidified that that’s what I want to do.”
After Utsch graduates from CRMS, he plans to study research biology at Middlebury College and ramp up his work with Save the Nautilus, especially the research and education components.
“Save the Nautilus has been a springboard for kids to get involved in conservation,” says Utsch. “There’s this myth that children are too young to know how to make a difference, and that’s absolutely not true. Anyone dedicated, regardless of age or background, can make a difference for the planet and for conservation. We need that now more than ever.”
For information on Utsch’s organization or to donate, visit www.savethenautilus.com
Josiah recently was interviewed about his work with Save the Nautilus on Carbondale Community Radio Station KDNK. Listen to the interview here.