Greenpeace in the 1980s

The campaigns against radioactive waste and toxic dumping; new ships and new offices around the world; the World Park Base in Antartica; the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior; the worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling; victories on toxics, whaling and destructive fishing practices.


Greenpeace declares February 1st the International Day of Antarctica in 1986, before going on to set up a World Park Base there. A 50-year ban on minerals exploitation in the Antarctica World Park was secured in 1991. © Greenpeace / Rolf Trösch.


1980: Greenpeace exposed the danger of shipments of radioactive waste from Japan to the nuclear reprocessing plants at Sellafield (UK) and La Hague (France), by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL). The Rainbow Warrior was arrested for obstructing ships docking at the ports of Cherbourg and Barrow-in-Furness.

1980: Greenpeace publicised the dumping of toxic waste into the North Sea by German chemical company Bayer AG.

1981: Two new ships, Sirius and Cederlea, joined the Greenpeace fleet. And 50 separate actions were carried out – against nuclear waste transport and dumping, acid rain and nuclear testing – in a flurry of world-wide activity.

1981: Spain finally announced the end of whaling, following a series of Greenpeace actions, during which the Rainbow Warrior was arrested and held in custody for five months.

1981: Greenpeace established new offices in Spain, Denmark and Germany.

1981: The organisation was accepted as a formal observer at the London Dumping Convention.

1982: The chemical company Bayer stopped dumping acid wastes at sea.

1982: The Sirius sailed into the port of Leningrad, to protest against Soviet nuclear testing. Officials refused to deliver a telegram from Greenpeace to Brezhnev, and towed the Sirius out of the port – but not before Greenpeace had released 2,000 helium balloons carrying the message, “Soviet Union: Stop The Atomic Tests,” in Russian.

1982: The European Parliament introduced a ban on the import of seal skins and products into the EEC, following Greenpeace hovercraft actions on the ice and water of Novia Scotia.

1982: The International Whaling Commission (IWC) voted, by 25 to seven, to end all commercial whaling in three years.

1983: The London Dumping Convention halted all ocean dumping of radioactive waste.

1983: Greenpeace established an office in Sweden.

1983: The Rainbow Warrior confronted the Japanese driftnet fleet, whose 172-boat factory salmon fishing operation was killing large quantities of wildlife, in US waters.

1983: Four Greenpeace divers were contaminated by an oily radioactive slick, whilst attempting to block a discharge pipe at Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant. The pipe was releasing more than 10 million litres of radioactive water into the sea every day. As a result, Greenpeace was fined £50,000 for contempt and BNFL was granted a permanent injunction against the organisation. BNFL was later found guilty, on four criminal charges, for the discharge.

1983: Actions began against chemical companies discharging titanium dioxide waste into rivers and oceans. Divers from the Cedarlea attached a tube to the end of a pipe used by the company Tioxide to discharge 800,000 tonnes of waste into the Humber estuary in the UK.

1984: Greenpeace began a programme of political, scientific and direct action work to conserve Antarctica as a World Park.

1984: Greenpeace UK won the first case ever brought under Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act. Reg Bloom, director of Knowlesley Wildlife Safari Park pleaded guilty to four charges of taking dolphins and keeping them, against the provisions of this act.

1985: The Rainbow Warrior evacuated islanders from Rongelap, one of the Pacific Marshall Islands contaminated by radioactive fallout from US nuclear tests, in Operation Exodus.

1985: A French Secret Service agent – Christine Cabon – infiltrated the Greenpeace office in Auckland, posing as a volunteer.

1985: French Secret Service agents blew up the Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland harbour, at 23.38hr on 10th July. One of the crew, the photographer Fernando Pereira, drowned as the ship sank.

1985: The Beluga joined the Greenpeace fleet, and was transformed into an international action and laboratory ship, to monitor pollution in the rivers, estuaries, harbours and coastal waters of Europe.

1986: The worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling, established in 1983, came into force.

1986: Greenpeace established a Science Unit at the University of London.

1987: Greenpeace set up a World Park base – containing laboratory facilities, communication equipment and a hydroponic greenhouse to provide a fresh supply of vegetables – in Antarctica.

1987: Divers broke a High Court injunction in the UK, blocked the pipes discharging radioactive waste at Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, and were subsequently jailed.

1987: An international campaign was launched against nuclear weapons at sea.

1987: Greenpeace established its first office in a developing country – Argentina.

1988: Greenpeace Ireland officially opened, with the pollution from Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant as its main concern.

1988: An 18-metre long action-bus, built and equipped by Greenpeace Austria, toured the Baltic coast, monitoring pollution and a killer virus that was threatening the survival of Baltic seals.

1988: Greenpeace received an award for, “outstanding environmental achievement”, from the United Nations Environmental Programme.

1988: A new Greenpeace ship – the Rubicon – set off from Brighton, to monitor the environmental threats to dolphins in Cornish, Welsh, Irish and Scottish waters.

1988: Delegates at the London Dumping Convention agreed to halt all ocean incineration of toxic waste by the end of 1994.

1989: Greenpeace released the first major Western rock album to enter the USSR. Peter Gabriel, The Pretenders, Dire Straits, U2, the Eurythmics, Talking Heads, Sting, the Grateful Dead and Bryan Adams all contributed tracks to the album, ‘Greenpeace: Breakthrough’. An office was then established in Moscow.

1989: Greenpeace inflatables succeeded in preventing the US navy from testing their Trident II nuclear missile system.

1989: An East-West Educational Project was launched, with schools from nine countries working on environmental solutions.

1989: The London Dumping Convention agreed to a global ban on the incineration of waste at sea.

1989: The Precautionary Principle – which states that no activities should be permitted unless there is a clear understanding of their likely consequences – was adopted by the Governing Council of the United Nations Environmental Programme, the Paris Commission and the Barcelona Convention.

1989: The United Nations agreed to halt driftnet fishing, in response to public outrage at the indiscriminate fishing practices exposed by Greenpeace.

Greenpeace in the 1990s »