Defending Our Oceans: The Year that Was

Feature story - 13 March, 2007
The Esperanza has departed Sydney. This marks the end of the Defending Our Oceans expedition - 477 days, 12 legs, thousands of miles and tens of thousands of Ocean Defenders later. In possibly the longest web article ever, we look back at the highlights of the year (well, 15 months to be exact), and thank all our Ocean Defenders for their unending dedication and support (and sense of humour) over what has been an amazing voyage.

The Esperanza and the Arctic Sunrise in Capetown way back on the day of the launch of Defending Our Oceans.

November 2005: Capetown

We fitted out the Esperanza with first class technology, and departed Capetown, South Africa, bound for the Southern Ocean to confront the Japanese Government's whaling fleet.

Southern Ocean 2006 - and Nissui

The 2005-2006 confrontations in the Southern Ocean were dramatic - two of our activists got flipped into the water when one of them was caught by a harpoon line, the whaling mothership Nisshin Maru

rammed our ship the Arctic Sunrise

, and activist Mikey Rosato became known worldwide as the "whale rider" after clinging to a dead whale to prevent it being hauled aboard the factory ship.  On Ocean Defenders TV we exposed the brutal death of a minke whale that took 39 minutes and 6 rifle shots to die.  

Ocean Defenders force whalers to divest

On the positive front, we (and that includes you, Ocean Defenders!) forced the financial backers of the whaling fleet, Japanese seafood conglomerate Nissui, to divest their shares in the operation, effectively cancelling any non-government support for the Japanese whaling fleet.  We also lost Nissui several valuable customers.

In January people around the world expressed their opposition to whaling.  Expedition leader Shane Rattenbury began what we affectionately termed "the Shane-a-thon" making many media appearances to continue the political push to end whaling.

United Nations - January 2006

While the Esperanza travelled the 7 seas we also had teams of people working behind the scenes in the murky world of international policy meetings, from New Zealand to New York.  The  Greenpeace Oceans Policy team takes the evidence that we have gathered at sea into the halls of the United Nations (sometimes via a live satellite linkup from the Esperanza) and countless other international meetings where governments gather.  In January 2006 we finally launched a blog to keep track of our Ocean Defenders in suits.

Making Piracy History: West Africa (Feb - April 2006)

From Capetown the Esperanza headed to the dangerous seas off West Africa to expose the horrific conditions of pirate fisheries. We exposed the "Zombie Graveyard" where Chinese fishermen are forced to live in squalor, and exposed pirate Korean reefers in Las Palmas. We arrested pirates who were complicit in an industry that sees rich western nations stealing millions of dollars worth of fish from poor African nations, and they were eventually fined an unprecedented amount by Spanish and Guinean authorities and were put out of business.

Roadmap to Recovery

We launched the most accurate maps ever produced covering some of the Earth's mostprecious ecological treasures at theConvention on Biological Diversity in Brazil, outlining exactly what we mean when we're talking about a global network of marine reserves.

Cracking Contraptions: Azores (April - May 2006)

After the excitement of the previous two legs, the Azores team had a different mandate.  Working with IFAW and the University of the Azores, we used an amazing array of technological equipment (or "Esperanza's cracking contraptions", as we came to call them) to get unprecedented footage of sperm whales and deep sea corals.

Tuna Trouble: Mediterranean (May - June 2006)

In the Mediterranean we crossed paths with our flagship the Rainbow Warrior as we highlighted the plight of the "kings of the ocean". We called on the countries of the Mediterranean to protect bluefin tuna with marine reserves in their breeding and feeding areas. Later in the year we followed this up with representation at The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) meeting in Croatia, where the EU Commission failed to agree to stop fishing during tuna's spawning season.  Our Spanish campaigner gave a unique behind the scenes look at how the decision at ICCAT (also known  by the Rainbow Warrior team as "I Catch Crazy Amounts of Tuna") was made.

Sleepless in Smackdown: IWC (June 2006) and World Oceans Day

Meanwhile, the Arctic Sunrise was in St Kitts for the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, but was denied entry.  Our crew was arrested and thrown in "Smackdown", the St Kitts Jail (you can read Mike's entertaining blog of the entire incident).  Luckily the pro-whalers lost most of the votes but sadly won support for the St Kitts Declaration, a statement intended to pave the way for the resumption of commercial whaling.  On June 8, Ocean Defenders globally joined in the "Oceans World Cup", and successfully convinced eleven countries to change their vote at the UN and change from "Deep Sea Destroyers" to "Team Ocean Defenders".

Red Sea (June - July 2006)

The Esperanza continued on to Egypt to expose the destruction caused by coastal development and tourism, working with Egyptian NGO HEPCA.  It was a historic moment, Greenpeace's first visit to Egypt.  One of our Ocean Defenders even got chosen to be a full-time staff member.

Esperanza meets Bollywood: India (July - August 2006)

In another first, the Esperanza headed to India where we had been campaigning on the plight of the Olive Ridley turtles. Thousands of Ocean Defenders emailed the Indian government calling for protection for the unique turtles. In a star-studded event, Bollywood stars joined us onboard to speak out about the need for the Indian government to take stronger measures to protect India's unique marine environments, and we launched a report outlining the key steps.

Pollution in the Philippines (August - September 2006) and ABN AMRO

The Philippines leg was one of the many that had a twist in the middle - the tragic 200,000 litre oil spill. The Esperanza diverted to offer assistance to the people of the Philippines as well as provide scientific assessment of the damage.  "You have brought hope to the people," said our campaigner on the ground, Mark Dia.  The Esperanza also led a flotilla of protest against the Australian owned Lafayette mine.  Thanks to Ocean Defenders everywhere, the financial backers of the mine, Dutch bank ABN AMRO, has agreed to meet with us and other NGOs and reconsider their involvement.

We will continue working with Banktrack and other NGOs to keep the pressure on ANZ, ABN AMRO, and other financial backers of the mine.

Pacific Piracy (September - October 2006)

The Pacific leg focused mainly on solutions for overfishing and piracy that runs rampant in the huge 30,000km expanse of ocean.  We also discovered an exposed a shark-finning operation, the horrific truth behind the tuna industry, and the links between fishing trawlers and the illegal sex trade in Kiribati which largely targets poor young women.

Stop Pirate Fishing! - Baltic Sea (September 2006)

Once again the expedition expanded somewhat as the Arctic Sunrise headed to the Baltic Sea to echo our calls in the Pacific: fight pirate fishing, expose overfishing and its commercial links, and call for a network of marine reserves.   And once again there was a twist - the "toxic death ship" Probo Koala showed up nearby and the Sunrise crew immediately diverted to ensure that it would no longer pose a risk to the environment or people's lives.  Happily, Estonian authorities took action and launched an investigation.  EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas praised us for "filling the gaps in the implementation of European law".

Meanwhile thousands of Ocean Defenders asked Birds Eye and Iglo, major seafood brands, to stop buying potentially illegal Baltic and Barents Sea cod.  Birds Eye and Iglo's new owners have now met with us and agreed to abide by industry guidelines regarding the illegal Barents cod problem. Unfortunately, they have not yet agreed to phase out the depleted and illegal Baltic cod from their products. 

But Sweden is now free from Baltic cod - which the supermarkets involved attribute directly to the pressure placed on them by potential customers: that's you again, Ocean Defenders.

Into the Trash Vortex: Hawaii (October - November 2006)

We journeyed into the heart of the trash vortex, an area the size of Texas in the North Pacific in which an estimated 6 kilos of plastic for every kilo of natural plankton, which along with other slow degrading garbage swirls slowly around like a clock, choked with dead fish, marine mammals, and birds who get snared.

We released a report on the issue and our scientists surveyed the area. Ocean Defenders talked with our scientists on board and received advice about how to reduce their own impact on the marine environment.

A message to Iceland (October 2006)

When Iceland announced they intended to conduct a commercial whale hunt, thousands of Ocean Defenders vowed to visit Iceland if the Icelandic government changed their mind.  The media attention in Iceland was unprecedented, with the Icelandic tourism industry and much of the public critical of the government's decision to back a "one-man whaling campaign".

Blame Canada! - United Nations General Assembly (November 2006)

Meanwhile the debate on bottom trawling was heating up at the UN, and even Radiohead and Sigourney Weaver spoke out to support us!  Ocean Defenders had been keenly following the issue all year.  We hit the streets, email boxes and even tv screens of UN delegates following the release of our Blame Canada! Animation which was featured in 31 Canadian newspapers, had over 100,000 views on YouTube and was screened on MTV (at their request!)  Thousands of emails poured in to the Canadian and Spanish governments. On the good side, Canada did change its vote on bottom trawling, along with Spain. However, Iceland blocked what could have been a progressive response and as a result the bid for a moratorium on bottom trawling failed.

World's Aquarium - Mexico (November 2006 - December 2006)

We sailed into the Gulf of California, dubbed by Jacques Cousteau as " The World's Aquarium" to present a report calling for the area to be better protected.

Crossing the Pacific (December 2006 - January 2007)

After a busy year, the crew spent Christmas on board taking the ship to New Zealand to prepare for our final confrontation in the Southern Ocean.  Meanwhile, Ocean Defenders entertained themselves and created a webcam flickr group, collecting their favourite pics from the Esperanza's live webcam and keeping the crew company from afar.  New Internationalist magazine released an issue dedicated to the "State of The World's Oceans" and joined our call for a global network of marine reserves.

Southern Ocean 2007 (January - February 2007)

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and this expedition to the Southern Ocean was nothing like the last.  We answered distress calls both from Sea Shepherd and subsequently the Nisshin Maru

which suffered a fatal fire, and offered our help to tow the crippled whaling mother ship to port - supported by thousands of Ocean Defenders calling for them to accept our help. We assisted the whalers with reports on the ice conditions but stood by for peaceful protest in case they resumed whaling. 

Meanwhile we kept up the political pressure behind the scenes and it's safe to say the Foreign Minister of Denmark is feeling the heat as thousands of Ocean Defenders demand that Denmark not support commercial whaling. 

…To Tokyo and beyond!

And that is where the Defending Our Oceans expedition ends, but not the campaign to Defend Our Oceans.  The Esperanza is heading to Tokyo to continue to push for an end to commercial whaling.  And around the world, our team will keep working to create a global network of marine reserves, and for the elimination of destructive fishing practises and illegal, unfair fisheries.

If you were an Ocean Defender, we’d like to thank you for truly being with us on this amazing journey, helping us to pressure governments, corporations, financiers, and the UN. 

Thank you for leaving comments and ideas on our blog, talking to us in the forum, sending your artwork to Art4Oceans and your pictures to flickr, creating an Ocean Defender myspace page with over 6000 "friends", visiting the ship, volunteering your time, writing to newspapers, linking to us from your websites and blogs, and telling your friends and family about the crisis facing our oceans.

We hope you will join us as we continue to Defend Our Oceans!

Defending the whales

Check out for more ways to keep defending the whales

The year in pictures

Pictures from key moments throughout the expedition