Five-year-old Elijah Weiler was captivated by the sea snails and horseshoe crabs crawling in a touch tank at the Cape May County Earth Day celebration Saturday at the county park and zoo.

“Oh, my God. He’s so fat,” the Scullville, Egg Harbor Township, boy squealed at a horseshoe crab in the water. “Can I touch his claws? Can I touch his tail?”

The tank of sea stars and spider crabs — an exhibit by the Wetlands Institute in Middle Township — offered an introduction to the environment and habitat, particularly in Cape May County, said Kaitlin Gannon, outreach coordinator for the Wetlands Institute.

Throughout South Jersey, some regions have been getting an early start to Earth Day, using weekend festivals to hold 5K races, host talks about climate change and ecosystems, and encourage hands-on learning.

Earth Day is officially on Monday.

Today, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority will hold its Earth Day Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Haneman Environmental Park off Delilah Road in Egg Harbor Township.

The ACUA says the event, which typically draws about 4,000 people, will be held rain or shine.

The late Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, founded Earth Day, using it as a grassroots effort to draw attention to environmental issues.

The idea sprouted after a major oil spill off the Santa Barbara, Calif., coast in 1969, when about 4 million gallons of oil spewed into waterways. The first Earth Day was observed in 1970.

Some area Earth Day observances include 5K runs, with Cape May County’s on Saturday offering wildflower seeds in lieu of trophies.

This year, the 5K run took a somber tone in the aftermath of Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon, which killed three people and injured more than 170.

Before and after the race, a moment of silence remembered the victims of the attack and their families, Cape May County Freeholder Marie Hayes said.

Contact Brian Ianieri:

609-272-7253