An old man was walking along the beach, enjoying the mid-morning sunshine as the tide slowly receded.
The sun reflecting off the sand and rocks beneath his feet was already raising a film of sweat on his brow.
Today was going to be a scorcher.
A little way ahead, a boy was throwing things into the water.
As he got closer, he noticed it was starfish â€“ the boy was throwing starfish into the water.
â€œWhy are you doing that?â€ asked the man.
â€œIâ€™m saving the starfish,â€ said the boy. â€œItâ€™s going to be an unusually low tide, and the sun is going to be particularly hot.â€
â€œThereâ€™s thousands of them,â€ said the old man. â€œYou canâ€™t save â€™em all.â€
â€œNo,â€ said the boy, as he flipped another starfish as far as he could into the receding waters, â€œbut at least I saved that one.â€
The old man smiled and continued down the beach.
And this is where the old story changes into a new reality.
The old man hesitated, looked back at the boy, and pulled out his cellphone.
He punched in a number: â€œHi, Martha. Grab Harry and the kids and come on down to the beach. Itâ€™s going to be an unusually low tide and a particularly hot day, and there are thousands of starfish that will die unless we help them.â€
He bent down, picked up a starfish, and tossed it into the waves.
â€œHurry,â€ he added.
Soon he was joined by Martha and Harry and his two grandchildren, Molly and Ralphie, and they were all tossing dozens and dozens of starfish into the water.
A thought occurred to Harry. He pulled out his smart phone, took a picture of some of the starfish stranded on the beach and posted it on Facebook with a note: â€œItâ€™s going to be an unusually low tide today, and the sun is particularly hot. These starfish need saving!â€
Immediately, his Facebook friends â€œlikedâ€ his post and added encouraging comments.
Some shared his post with their friends.
Molly smiled, â€œThatâ€™s a great idea, Dad, and you should tweet that post, too.â€
More people started showing up on the beach, tossing starfish into the receding tide.
Several of the newcomers pulled out their smart phones and took pictures, posting them to Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites.
A few shot bits of video and added it to the mix. Almost immediately, the Starfish Project became a big hit on YouTube.
Before long, there were thousands of people on the beach, throwing starfish into the waters ahead of the ebbing tide.
The atmosphere was festive â€“ some street performers had even come down, and there was singing and dancing and jugglers and a guy who evoked much laughter by following people around, exactly mimicking the way each was throwing starfish into the water.
And then all the starfish were saved.
And all the people started to leave, until the boy was all alone on the beach once again.
The boy looked around at the shellfish and baby crabs that had been crushed by the starfish savioursâ€™ feet.
He looked at the broken bottles and the plastic wrappings and the beer cans they had left behind.
Then he spotted a sand dollar that somehow hadnâ€™t been broken by the thousands of feet that had pounded the beach in search of starfish to save.
He picked it up and gently placed it into the now-incoming tide.
â€œWell, at least I saved that one,â€ he said.