Oceans Victories

Page - March 26, 2010
Without the global ocean there would be no life on Earth. Greenpeace believes we need to tackle a great many threats to the oceans' viability and find better ways of managing their resources.

Bye-Bye to Bycatch

Many fisheries catch fish other than the ones that they target. Often, these unintended fish are simply thrown dead or dying back into the sea. Estimates vary as to how serious a problem "bycatch" is worldwide. To combat this wasteful problem, Greenpeace has had many successes banning destructive fishing practices that contribute to bycatch, namely bottom trawls and driftnets.

Oceans Victory

Bottom trawling is a destructive way of "strip-mining" the ocean floor, harvesting the species that live there. As well as the target fish species, this also results in bycatch of commercially unattractive animals like starfish and sponges. A single pass of a trawl removes up to 20 percent of the seafloor fauna and flora.

In 2007, after four years of Greenpeace campaigning to bring an end to deep-sea bottom trawling, an international agreement was made to protect just under 25 percent of the high seas from this incredibly destructive fishing method. Following a resolution made by the UN in 2006 representatives from countries around the world gathered in Chile to hash out the agreement.

Another destructive fishing practice, driftnets, are responsible for killing up to 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises per year. Greenpeace helped expose this indiscriminate activity, fueling public outrage. As a result a UN moratorium on high seas large-scale driftnets was passed in 1989, followed by a worldwide ban in 1992.

In 1998, the EU finally agreed to phase out driftnet fishing by its fleets in EU and international waters by the end of 2001. France, Italy, the UK and Ireland, continued drift netting in the North-East Atlantic and Mediterranean after Japan, Taiwan and Korea stopped driftnet fishing on the high seas when the worldwide ban came into force at the end of 1992. This victory was the culmination of 15 years of Greenpeace campaigning.

Discontinuing the use of particularly damaging fishing methods is only half the battle. On a global level, Greenpeace's Defending the Oceans campaign is calling for the creation of numerous marine reserves.

A Worldwide Ban on Large-scale Driftnets on the High Seas

In the 1980's, Greenpeace ran a high-profile campaign to expose the atrocities associated with the use of large-scale driftnets.  As a result of these efforts, the United Nations invoked a moratorium on high seas large-scale driftnets in 1989, in response to public outrage at their indiscriminate destruction to sea life.  Greenpeace exposed driftnets as "walls of death" due to their ability to entangle and kill most species that swim into them, including dolphins, sharks, seals, squids and many species of birds.  In 1992, a worldwide ban was put into force.

Baltic Sea: Closed for Repairs

In 2004, the United Nations´ International Maritime Organization (IMO) designated the Baltic Sea as a "Particularly Sensitive Sea Area," meaning tougher restrictions on oil tankers and other dangerous cargo vessels. This victory represents two and a half years of Greenpeace campaigning, including two members of the Rainbow Warrior crew who were locked up in a Swedish cell for two weeks, groups of volunteers who performed around the clock 3-hour-on 3-hour-off watches tracking dirty ships on their way into the Baltic and activists driving flat-bottom rigid inflatable boats through the icy waters of Estonian and Latvian oil ports in winter to stop a single hulled tanker from docking.

The Baltic Sea protection status was adopted despite stiff opposition by the Russian Federation, which formed an alliance with Liberia and Panama, the two largest flags of convenience states. Flags of convenience states profit from allowing dirty industries and unsafe oil tankers to travel the oceans practically unregulated.

The Greenpeace Defending our Oceans campaign sets out to protect and preserve our oceans now and for the future by setting aside swathes of the global oceans from exploitation and controllable human pressure, allowing these areas the respite they so desperately need for recovery and renewal.

Building on a protection and recovery system established to manage land based over-exploitation, Marine Reserves are the ocean equivalent of national parks.

Marine Reserves are a scientifically developed and endorsed approach to redressing the crisis in our oceans which work alongside a range of other measures designed to ensure that the demands we make of our oceans are managed sustainably.

U.S. Grocers Acknowledge Overfishing

Scientists warn that the biggest single threat to marine ecosystems today is overfishing. Giant ships using state-of-the-art fish-finding sonar can pinpoint schools of fish quickly and accurately. Our appetite for fish is exceeding the oceans' ecological limits with devastating impacts on marine ecosystems.

Fortunately, in 2010 Trader Joe’s agreed to "green-up their stores" by implementing sustainable seafood policies. Trader Joe's felt the heat from Greenpeace's mock website, www.traitorjoe.com, relentless phone calls from supporters, thoughtful karaoke songs from shoppers and in-store demonstrations and questions to store managers from activists across the country.

Also, in 2008, Greenpeace convinced Stop & Shop and Giant Food to stop selling shark, orange roughy and Chilean sea bass until their populations rebound.

This victory came on the heels of our supermarket ranking report in which Greenpeace called on 20 of the top U.S. supermarket retailers to improve their seafood purchasing practices and stop selling destructively and overfished seafood. Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, and shark were at the top of our "red list."

Stop & Shop and Giant Food are owned by Amsterdam based Royal Ahold. In addition to removing these three seafood species from sale, Ahold also committed to improving the information it gives its customers and supporting policy efforts to help our oceans.

This wasn't the first time we helped call off the fishing of a species in jeopardy. In 1999, thanks in part to our efforts, Japan was ordered to stop "experimental" fishing of Southern Bluefin Tuna by the International Law of the Sea Tribunal.

In January 2010, Target announced that all their stores will stop selling farmed salmon products. This move towards greater ocean conservation is a first by a major seafood retailer. Salmon consumption in the United States is a huge market for retailers. Salmon is second only to shrimp in seafood purchases in the United States.

In another stunning win for the oceans, in February 2011, Costco agreed to remove over half of its red list seafood items, pursue better practices in aquaculture and assume more of a leadership role in the ongoing global effort to develop a more sustainable tuna industry.

However, in order to really save our oceans, we need changes made in the way the entire ocean ecosystem is managed, not just individual fish populations. Greenpeace's Defending the Oceans campaign urges us to make sure that our actions meet the needs of current and future generations without causing harm to the environment.

The Scourge of the Seas

Pirate fishing - known by its less colorful name: illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing - is a far cry from the glamour of Hollywood movies. But it is a multi-billion dollar reality for many communities that can least afford to be robbed. While it is incredibly difficult to police the high seas, Greenpeace has contributed to plans of action to combat illegal fishing and curb the exploits.

The "skull and crossbones" easily identifies fictional pirates. In contrast, real life pirates hide their identity and origin, ignore the rules and often fly "flags on convenience (FOC)." Ships will register in foreign countries that have lax regulations when it comes to fishing. With the click of a computer mouse, for as little as $500, flags can be bought over the internet from countries like Malta, Panama, Belize, Honduras and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Greenpeace first brought pirate fishing to the forefront of public awareness in 2000, when our ship expedition exposed pirate fishing in the Atlantic and an import ban was adopted on all bigeye tuna caught by FOC vessels.

The following year, our efforts helped adopt an "international plan of action" to combat illegal fishing in international waters.

The pirates retaliated in 2003, aiming to remove Greenpeace from the International Maritime Organization, the UN body charged with regulating shipping worldwide. However, thanks to intensive lobbying efforts by online activists around the world, the FOC states were unsuccessful.

There is still work to be done when it comes to pirate fishing. Governments must outlaw flags of convenience and refuse entry to fishing and supply vessels. It is a matter of political will to deliver the kind of enforcement that is needed to protect the marine environment and the communities that depend upon it.

No Sealing

Greenpeace believes in order to best protect the oceans, we must focus on the entire ecosystem. However, sometimes a single species is targeted, and treated so brutally, that it warrants a campaign for its very survival. Such is the case with seal pups. Our controversial actions on the ice have resulted in laws to save this iconic species.

Our efforts to stop seal hunts were one of the very first Greenpeace campaigns. The bloody images of seal pups we brought to the public's attention will not be soon forgotten. Nor will the images of our activists facing down the sealers. Thanks to the public outcry, the grey seal slaughter was stopped in Orkney Islands, Scotland in 1978.

Another victory in the fight to save seals came in 1982 when the EC banned import of seal pup skins.

But seals aren't the only ocean species we've helped. In 2008, we shone a spotlight on a lesser known species - the dugong - when the Department of Defense attempted to build a new airbase smack in the middle of the dugong's home. Fortunately, a federal judge ruled in favor of the manatee's relative, citing that the DOD was in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act for failing to consider the environmental impacts of its base.

Finally, Greenpeace helped bring about a worldwide ban on whaling. Learn more about our whales campaign here.

The goal of our Defending the Oceans campaign is to create marine reserves, so that all the species found within can be safe from human harm.

Commercial Whaling Banned

Our work to save the whales is perhaps the most well-known Greenpeace campaign.  Our tradition of physically placing activist bodies between the harpoons and the whales have helped save the lives of whales on site and influenced worldwide laws for their protection.  But our work in the water is just a fraction of our efforts to protect these amazing animals and that work continues today - 28 years after a moratorium banned commercial whaling.

In 1975, we launched our anti-whaling campaign.  The stories and images we gathered helped turn public opinion against the whalers.  So much so that in 1982, the International Whaling Commission issued a moratorium on commercial whaling that came into effect in 1986.  This very first whaling victory was short-lived as three countries continued to hunt whales: Norway, Iceland and Japan.  Norway and Iceland flat out refused to comply with the moratorium, and Japan pretends to hunt whales in the name of science.  This would be more believable if the whale meat weren't packaged for sale in restaurants and supermarkets in Japan, and even included in school lunch programs.

In 2007 Iceland finally renounced commercial whaling after admitting that there was no market for its whale meat.  As a result, our anti-whaling campaign now focuses on Japan and Norway as we challenge these governments to call off their hunts. 

Some highlights of our efforts include:

  • In 1994 the Antarctic whale sanctuary, proposed by France and supported by Greenpeace, is approved by the International Whaling Commission.
  • In 2002 a major push by Japan and its supporters to re-introduce commercial whaling through the International Whaling Commission is thwarted.
  • In 2004 online activists gather 50,000 signatures pledging to visit Iceland if the government would stop whaling.  With a potential value of more than $60 million in tourist spending, measured against a whaling program that generated $3-4 million in profits, the pledge dramatically illustrates that whales are worth more to Iceland alive than dead.  In response, Iceland reduces plans to kill 500 minke, sei, and fin whales over two years, and instead announces a quota of only 25 minkes for the year.
  • In 2006 our Argentine Ocean Defenders hit Nissui-the people who run the Japanese whaling fleet-in their pockets. Our online activists convinced a major Nissui client in Argentina not to buy from a corporation involved in the killing of whales.
  • In 2006 we bring the whaling fight home as 100,000 online activists target seafood suppliers Gorton's, Sealord, and parent company Nissui to withdraw their active support for Japanese whaling.
  • In 2008 for the first time ever, Japan announces a 20 percent reduction in the number of whales targeted in the Southern Ocean.

Estimates suggest that between 1925, when the first whaling factory ship was introduced, and 1975 more than 1.5 million whales were killed in total.  We're doing everything in our power to stop that number from growing and allowing these species the chance to recover.

Offshore Dumping

In 1995, Greenpeace activists occupied the Brent Spar oil storage facility in the North Sea. Shell, the world's then-largest oil company, planned to simply dump the 14,500 ton installation into the ocean.  In what is remembered as one of the most significant Greenpeace successes of the 1990s, the company reversed its decision and agreed to dismantle and recycle the Spar on land.

Dramatic visual footage of activists being attacked with water cannons and relief teams being flown in by helicopter brought the stand-off to a massive audience.  Spontaneous protests in support of Greenpeace and against Shell broke out across Europe and the public pressure proved too much to bear for Shell.

The events led to a historic accord, the OSPAR Convention, which banned the dumping of offshore installations at sea in the North-East Atlantic. The Convention also agreed on the phasing-out of radioactive and toxic discharges, as proposed by Greenpeace.

Long before Greenpeace succeeded in stopping the disposal of obsolete oil installations at sea, we helped get bans in place for other toxic dumping at sea, such as:

  • In 1993, the London Dumping Convention permanently banned the dumping at sea of radioactive and industrial waste worldwide.
  • In 1998, following at-sea actions, and submissions by Greenpeace, a world-wide ban on incinerating organochlorine waste at sea was agreed by the London Dumping Convention.
  • In 1983, the Parties to the London Dumping Convention called for a moratorium on radioactive waste dumping at sea. As a result of Greenpeace's repeated actions against ocean dumping, this was the first year since the end of the Second World War where officially no radioactive wastes were dumped at sea.

Without doubt, if the Spar had been dumped, many more platforms would have followed. There would have been little, if any, international scrutiny of decommissioning operations - and there would have been a cumulative environmental impact way beyond that of the Spar alone. Greenpeace's action, and the support of people throughout Europe, ensured that no such structures have been dumped to this day.