Greenpeace in the 1970s

The founding of Greenpeace; our first campaigns; the birth of Greenpeace UK; the growing of our fleet of vessels; and the formation of Greenpeace International.


The Vega is boarded by French commandos in Moruroa nuclear test zone, 1973.© Greenpeace / Ann-Marie Horne.


1971: A group of anti-war protestors chose to take non-violent direct action against US nuclear weapons testing on Amchitka Island, Alaska. They chartered a ramshackle fishing vessel the Phyllis Cormack, renamed her Greenpeace, and sailed off to bear witness in the prohibited zone.

1972: The US Government abandoned their nuclear testing at Amchitka. Inspired by victory, Greenpeace turned its attention to French atmospheric nuclear testing at Moruroa, in the South Pacific. A Canadian businessman, David McTaggart, donated his yacht, Vega, to sail to Moruroa and disrupt these tests.

1973: Crew members of the Vega were beaten up and badly injured by French navy commandos, on their second trip to Moruroa. Photographic evidence of the attack increased already widespread international opposition to French nuclear testing.

1974: France announced to the UN General Assembly that all future nuclear tests would be conducted underground – a clear victory for Greenpeace.

1975: Greenpeace began its first campaign against whaling – confronting Soviet ships off the coast of California with high-speed inflatable dinghies, and shielding whales from their harpoons.

1976: Greenpeace launched an expedition to prevent the massacre of hundreds of seal pups in Newfoundland. ‘Active membership’ of the organisation also reached 8,000 this year, as the seeds of environmental activism spread rapidly around the world.

1977: Greenpeace UK was born, with four members and £800, in a borrowed office in Whitehall.

1978: A 23 year-old trawler, the Sir William Hardy, joined the Greenpeace fleet and was renamed the Rainbow Warrior. It set off to confront Norwegian and Icelandic whaling fleets, in the hope of forcing the International Whaling Commission to introduce a moratorium on whaling.

1978: Greenpeace exposed the dumping of nuclear waste in the North Atlantic, 1,000 kilometres south-west of the Cornish coast, by several European nations. Footage of a British ship, the Gem, dumping radioactive waste reached TV screens around the world.

1978: The Rainbow Warrior sailed to the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland, forcing the UK government to abandon a massive cull of grey seals.

1979: Australia banned whaling within its 320 kilometre fishing zone, on scientific and ethical grounds, as a result of Greenpeace actions.

1979: Greenpeace International was formed, as an umbrella organisation, to unify the work of Greenpeace campaigners around the world.

Greenpeace in the 1980s »