After successfully stopping nuclear testing near Amchitka, the newly formed Greenpeace Canada contacted the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in New Zealand, who had been campaigning against nuclear weapons in the Pacific for a decade. Greenpeace was convinced more non-violent direct action would win the fight against nuclear weapons globally, and encouraged CND to buy a boat so they could sail out and meet the French who were testing near Mururoa atoll, French Polynesia. CND did just that, placing a notice in the paper that would be answered by David McTaggart – a boat owner with no previous activism or political experience. On April 27, 1972 the Greenpeace III set sail for Mururoa, travelling for six weeks to the test site. The crew’s mission caused delays, but did not manage to stop the test as they’d hoped, and as they sailed back, they felt they had failed. But on their return to New Zealand, the crew learnt their voyage had reached the media, and a fleet of protest boats were on their way to the test zone. What they had done in Mururoa had ignited a movement. The flotilla of three yachts heading for French Polynesia was assembled by CND and Peace Media, the groups, along with other individuals, that became Greenpeace New Zealand.  

The Rainbow Warrior & the fight for a nuclear free Pacific

Over a decade after McTaggart and crew sailed into the Pacific to protest nuclear testing, the residents of Rongelap in the Marshall Islands appealed to Greenpeace for help. Their island home had become contaminated by nuclear testing by the US, with many islanders suffering terrible health consequences as a result.

The US, who had conducted the nuclear tests, refused to evacuate the people of Rongelap, despite their pleas, and so in their place Greenpeace agreed to transfer islanders to the safer Mejato 180 kilometres away. ‘Operation Exodus’ was a far cry from the usual work of hanging banners and protesting Greenpeace had become known for. The mission involved moving 300 islanders and tonnes of building materials across the Pacific, in an effort that would take almost two weeks.

As the crew arrived on board the Rainbow Warrior on May 17th, 1985, they were greeted warmly by the islanders. For the next ten days, they evaculated Rongelapese and materials across the ocean. By the end, many of the crew were left emotionally distraught at what they had witnessed. The Rongelapese people, who had lived on this land for thousands of years, now had no choice but to leave, unlikely to ever return. The mission brought home the real consequences of nuclear testing in the Pacific, and drew many to the cause.