A painting of an ocelot

All photos courtesy of the Endangered Species Coalition

Endangered Species Day occurs annually on the third Friday of May – and what better way to engage young people than some healthy competition? The Endangered Species Coalition put out the word for kids in grades K-12 to submit their drawings and paintings, all to raise awareness for plants and animals facing threats here in the United States.

"We are inspired and amazed by the submissions we receive ever year," David Robinson, the environmental education director of the Endangered Species Coalition, told MNN. That's easy to see, with paintings like the ocelot portrait by 16-year-old artist Nicole Dully, pictured above. We chatted with Robinson about the initiative and its effect.

MNN: What was the impetus behind creating an art competition geared toward young people?

David Robinson: After the first year or two that Endangered Species Day was held, we began receiving drawings and other artwork of endangered species, sent from students at various schools. We saw that it had the potential of engaging young people to learn about endangered species conservation. We organized a formal art contest, the Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest, soon after.

What impact do you hope to have?

Kids really seem to connect with the contest and understand that our most vulnerable species need safeguards like the Endangered Species Act. We hope that by encouraging young people to learn about endangered species through their art that they'll make good decisions about ways they can help to protect wildlife and their habitats.

What happens to the art after the contest is over?

We bring the grand prize winner and his family to Washington, D.C., where they receive an award and meet their member of Congress. The 40 semifinalist entries are displayed at the United States Botanic Garden on Capitol Hill. Following that, some of the art has been featured in U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service calendars and elsewhere online. We also hope to arrange other public exhibits in the future.

Describe the response you've gotten from young artists as well as the community.

We have had a tremendous response every year! Thousands of young people have submitted incredibly thoughtful and artistic entries. We have received letters from teachers, parents and students emphasizing that the contest has given them a special opportunity to learn about endangered species/conservation (for some for the first time). The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, International Child Art Foundation, and various state art associations have been instrumental to its success.

Take a look at the winners (and some of our personal favorites!) below:

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Kentucky arrow darter swims in open palms

Grand Prize: Kentucky arrow darter by David Starovoytov, 6th grade

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A colored-pencil drawing of an American alligator

2nd place: American alligator by Seungeun Yi, 14

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A watercolor painting of a San Francisco garter snake

K-2 category winner: San Francisco garter snake by Mark Deaver, 8

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A colored-pencil drawing of a bald eagle in front of the American flag

3-5 category winner: Bald eagle by Difei Li, 10

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Northern aplomato falcon

6-8 category winner: Northern aplomado falcon by Claire Noelle Kiernicki, 12

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A watercolor painting of a Hawaiian hoary bat with a toxic vat in the background

9-12 category winner: Hawaiian hoary bat by Adam Pavan, 15

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Painting of spotted owls

Northern spotted owl by Jessalyn Lu, 15

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A painting of a stellar sea lion trapped in a net

Stellar sea lion by Kaitlyn Kolsky, 16

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Sierra Nevada Bighorn sheep

Sierra Nevada big horn sheep by Elizabeth Joy Kiernicki, 16

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A painting of the North Pacific right whale caught in net

North Pacific right whale by Hanna Chacko, 8

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A watercolor painting of Welsh's Milkweed and the Monarch butterflies who depend on it

Welsh's Milkweed by Maisie Jane Jaworsky, 7

You can see the rest of the amazing submissions in the Endangered Species Coalition's Flickr group.To learn more about what you can do to help on Endangered Species Day, head on over to www.endangered.org.

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Anna Norris is an associate editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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