Mary Rollins, vice president of Discovery Education, said the North County students' project drew praise because it tackled a problem in their community.

"We know that crabbing and other industries that rely on water are important to Maryland's economy," Rollins said. "These kids took a look right in their own backyard to come up with a relatively simple solution to a multifaceted problem. That's what the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge is all about, empowering kids to find solutions"

The students have become passionate about tackling a problem they were scarcely aware of until Andraka read about it in a newspaper. They said they've both fished on the bay, but had no knowledge of the crab-trap issue.

"Everybody should get from [the study that] even if it's a problem that you really don't know much about, you can still do something about it ... " said Lunkenheimer, who lives in Severn. "If you'll just do research you can find out anything you want."

Others have been working on the ghost trap issue. Giordano said that NOAA helped fund a team of Virginia Institute of Marine Science researchers who have experimented with using biodegradable materials for a crab-trap hatch that would dissolve and allow animals to escape.

"It is not a requirement for fishermen to do that yet," Giordano added. "In many parts of the country, including in Puget Sound in the Northwest Passage, a lot of the Northeast and several states in the Gulf Coast, they have a biodegradable requirement."

In recent years, Giordano said, the concern has become more of a focal point locally. He added, "Everybody knew the traps were being lost, people thought they were degrading really rapidly and we showed that was not the case."

Tom O'Connell, director of the Maryland Fisheries Service, said fisheries managers and watermen would welcome the development of such crab traps.

"If there's a way to make the pots biodegradable — or at least compartments of traps to be biodegradable so they don't constantly trap and kill animals — I think that's something people would be interested in," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.