Earth Day celebrates 50 years: Ways to mark the milestone from or near home

Fifty years ago, millions of protesters hit the streets to take a stand with a common goal: to protect the Earth.

It was the start to the modern environmental movement, and for five decades each year on April 22, countless people have spent this quasi-holiday celebrating nature by doing clean ups at beaches and parks and by learning or teaching about nature and all its wonder with events big and small throughout the world.

  • The Aquarium of the Pacific is adding new content daily for kids and adults alike through its Online Academy and will host its first virtual Earth Day event April 22. (Photo by Robin Riggs)

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  • The wildflowers has started their bloom in the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve in Rancho Palos Verdes and White Point Nature Preserve in San Pedro. Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy will host a live event from the White Point Nature Preserve on Earth Day, April 22. Photo By Chuck Bennett

  • An egret spreads its wings as in lands in shallow water during low tide in Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach on Wednesday morning, April 15, 2020. Newport Bay is the largest estuary left in Southern California. It’s a place where freshwater mixes with saltwater creating a unique habitat tucked away from the masses and for people to walk and bike during coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • There are still a few areas to get out and explore on Earth Day, like trails in San Clemente that offer ocean views. Just be sure to use social distancing rules and avoid crowded areas. (Photo by Laylan Connelly/SCNG)

  • The Aquarium of the Pacific is adding new content daily for kids and adults alike through its Online Academy and will host its first virtual Earth Day event April 22. (Photo by Andrew Reitsma)

  • The Huntington Beach Pier is closed and the sand is almost deserted due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) closure in Huntington Beach, CA, on Thursday, March 26, 2020. While it’s unclear how much the environment has been impacted with closures and restrictions, less people means less trash left behind. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • There are still a few areas to get out and explore on Earth Day, like trails in San Clemente that offer ocean views. Just be sure to use social distancing rules and avoid crowded areas. (Photo by Laylan Connelly/SCNG)



But how do you celebrate Earth Day’s big 50th anniversary when access to the planet’s vast outdoors is limited, with most Southern California beaches shut down and parks shuttered by stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic?

Earth Day started in 1970 as a response to oil spills, smog and environmental concerns at the time, prompting a gathering of 20 million people in the United States to take to the streets, college campuses and countless cities in protest, according to the Earth Day Network, which partners with 75,000 organizations in 190 countries to coordinate Earth Day efforts.

Climate change is this year’s focus for the Earth Day Network, calling it “the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.”

While nature is getting a break now from human interaction – with less people at beaches and on streets to leave behind debris and trash – the long-term impacts are unknown, according to Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay.

“It’s too early to know what the actual environmental impacts of beach closures will be on our ocean. There are fewer boats and humans in the water, which would mean there’s less disturbance to marine life locally, but those effects are minimal compared to the more intense impacts from climate change, including ocean acidification, warming, and invasive species – which persist despite the temporary closures,” said Luke Ginger, Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, in an e-mail.

Plenty of ideas are being offered for getting kids thinking about the Earth while at home. Get their hands dirty while sprucing up a garden or find items around the house to reuse or recycle. Do a scavenger hunt for critters and creatures in the back yard, or even seek out some still accessible open spaces, parks or wetlands to take a nature hike or to simply smell the flowers.

Think long term by make a bucket list about natural wonders to explore when restrictions are lifted or discuss how wildlife is returning to precious areas such as Yosemite National Park given the human presence has been shut off in recent weeks.

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Environmental organizations across Southern California are getting creative, finding ways for school children and people under stay-at-home orders to celebrate and think about the Earth, even if the great outdoors is off limits in many areas.

Here are a few Earth Day events Southern California groups have pulled together:

South Bay

The South Bay Eco Festival – a group of area environmental organizations and green businesses – had to cancel its big event, but will showcase on its website and social media channels throughout the week a series of webinars, video demos and songs from the musical talent that was supposed to perform live in concert.

The Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy will be doing a virtual “live” tour at 3 p.m. on April 22 at White Point Nature Preserve. The tour will be led by Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Megan Wolff, who will talk about the preserve’s native plants and wildlife that thrive on the plants. Go to to watch.

Also, tune in to the National Geographic Channel on Cox 108 or Direct TV Channel 283 at 8 p.m. on April 22 to watch the premiere of “Born Wild: The Next Generation.”  The following week, at noon on April 29, there will be a Zoom conference hosted by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy to meet a National Geographic scientist from the film to talk about wild baby animals.

Heal the Bay, based in Santa Monica, will be hosting a series of online specials, including a Facebook Live with the non-profit’s CEO Shelley Luce at noon on April 22, followed at 1:30 p.m. with a discussion called “Heal the Bay: The 50 Year History of Earth Day” and more.

The environmental group is hosting live discussions throughout the month, including teaming with the Aquarium of the Pacific to showcase special guests, as well as other topics such as tidepools, hikes and climate change.

Long Beach

The Aquarium of the Pacific for the first time will have a “Virtual Earth Day” event, a day filled with activities and special appearances by animals, themed classes for kids, interactive classes for teens and an evening lecture for adults. There will be animal appearances on the Aquarium’s Facebook page shown live at select times, as well as classes for kids and teens throughout the day.

Adults can tune in at 7 p.m. for a live-streamed lecture hosted by Aquarium President Jerry Schubel that will feature Douglas McCauley, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at UC Santa Barbara.

“McCauley will share how we can all take inspiration, in challenging times, from lessons of resiliency in our ocean and what responsibility we have, on Earth Day, to recommit to protecting ocean health,” an announcement reads.

For a full listing or more information, go to:

Orange County

Take some time to do wildlife drawings with Wyland, a famous marine artist who got his start in Laguna Beach. Dana Wharf Whale Watching will be re-posting videos of Wyland doing his step-by-step tutorials on how to create creatures found in the ocean off Southern California, including a shark, a dolphin or a humpback whale. Find the series on Dana Wharf’s Facebook or Instagram page.

Orange County Coastkeeper will  be doing a live discussion about ‘What’s Up With Water’ – The Right Way to Recycle” at 3 p.m. Go to to gain access to the Zoom meeting.

OC Parks is encouraging a virtual stay-at-home Earth Day clean-up event, Trash Free OC, with an app that allows participants to share locations, pictures and a description of trash picked up for documenting the effort.

To get started, visit where you can link to the Survey123 mobile app or desktop version.

Before you start, the county listed a few guidelines. Ensure that it is safe and permissible by local authorities to be outside and follow health and safety ordinances. If you live in an area where you can be outside, be sure to practice social distancing and sanitation practices such as washing hands, wearing gloves and using face protection. Only pick up litter – and use a rake or grabber not bare hands – that is safe to handle and can be easily disposed of or recycled.


California State Parks has been hosting a distance learning program and has a full schedule lined up this week leading up to Earth Day. Different times are geared at various ages for students doing online learning.

On Wednesday, there will be discussions throughout the day, such as one at 10 a.m. on the Northern Elephant Seals at Hearst San Simeon State Park for children in third through fifth grade, and a special Earth Day 2020 celebration at 11 a.m. aimed at sixth- through eighth-graders.

There will be a live tour of Crystal Cove tidepools at 3 p.m. hosted by State Parks.

An all-ages discussion will happen at 2 p.m. called “If This Bluff Could Talk,” at Fort Humboldt State Historic Park. Pre-registration required, go to: