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Local Teenager Wins International Young Eco Hero Award

July 20, 2010

Maryland: Alexander James Zerphy, aged 13, a resident of Annapolis, MD, is a winner of Action For Nature’s 2010 International Young Eco-Hero Award. Zerphy is being honored for educating the public about the urgent need to protect the Atlantic horseshoe crab, and for connecting people with nature.

Digging in the sand one day on the beach, Zerphy found clear orbs with “alien-looking creatures swimming inside.”  Curious, he rushed home and researched them.  He discovered that they were the unhatched eggs of the Atlantic horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus. Horseshoe crabs have lived on the earth for at least 450 million years.  These animals are especially important because their blood contains a substance called Limulus amebocyte lysate, or LAL, that can save human lives by detecting harmful bacteria in tests on surgical instruments and prescription drugs.

Alarmed to learn that the horseshoe crabs are threatened by human activities, Zerphy wanted to help protect them.  He began participating in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources project called “Horseshoe Crabs in the Classroom.”  He also created an awareness campaign, Planet Horseshoe Crab, with logo and information cards to spread the word that we share this ecosystem – we’re all connected.

Wanting to do even more he aided in creating the Chesapeake Conservation Center to protect the horseshoe crabs, and helped fund it with birthday and holiday savings. He also created horseshoe crab information bookmarks, pencils and t-shirts. To continue researching the crabs, he received an Aquatic Research Education grant.

Zerphy also met with the mayor to talk about how he could spread awareness to local residents and encourage them to help protect the crabs.  The mayor generously supported Zerphy’s efforts and had two of his information boards made and installed at the Annapolis Maritime Museum and Back Creek Nature Center.

Last fall Zerphy developed a Planet Horseshoe Crab curriculum, and the Annapolis Maritime Museum invited him to teach horseshoe crab ecology to first through eight graders.

Zerphy’s work continues.  In addition to conducting classes, he manages his organization and conducts surveys on the horseshoe crabs.  He organized and runs a Naturalist Club to connect people with nature.  He is also the student advisor for The Terrapin Institute, working to protect the dwindling sandy beach habitat critical to the preservation of terrapins and other species. He invites people to take a Diamondback Detour, the name of his awareness campaign for terrapins, to learn more about these creatures.  Zerphy also created another sign for the beach in Hillsmere Shores – the beach where he first found the clear orbs, the eggs that started it all.