Inflatables with Greenpeace activists in front of the oil survey ship Orient Explorer disrupt the seismic testing by Brazilian oil giant Petrobras in Raukumara Basin, off East Cape, North Island. The activists hold banners reading "Stop deep sea oil". Floating behind the ship, the airgun arrays release thousands of high-decibel explosions to map deposits beneath the sea floor. Deep sea oil drilling is being opposed because of the risk of oil spills polluting marine life and coastlines and the impact of climate change when the oil is burnt.

A session at the 2014 Digital Mobilisation Skillshare explored ways that organisations are promoting and supporting grassroots-led campaigning to achieve bigger results. Nick Young of Greenpeace New Zealand talked about the “Stop deep sea drilling flotilla.”

New Zealand’s first “deep sea drilling flotilla” created new partnerships and allowed Greenpeace New Zealand to build a broader coalition of action on the oil campaign.

What was the problem?

Greenpeace New Zealand were already campaigning on oil exploration in 2011 when the people of the East Cape put out a call for action.

Brazilian oil company Petrobras had announced that they were to start seismic testing ahead of super-deep (around 3,000 meters) exploratory drilling in the Raukumara Basin off the East Cape of New Zealand’s North Island, in waters that have for many generations been the ancestral fishing grounds of the indigenous Iwi te Whanau a Apanui.

What happened?

A joint flotilla of boats and crew from all over New Zealand, including Greenpeace staff and volunteers and an Iwi fishing vessel, congregated in the test zone. The flotilla disrupted Petrobras’ oil exploration to such an extent that the New Zealand Government deployed its navy, air force and police to monitor, intimidate and ultimately arrest Elvis Teddy, captain of the tribe’s fishing vessel.

Petrobras has since said it no longer plans to drill in New Zealand waters.

What was people-powered about this campaign?

While the media sometimes wrongly called it the “Greenpeace flotilla,” it was in every sense a people-powered flotilla catalyzed by the Iwi. Greenpeace responded flexibly to this initial contact, seizing the opportunity of a new partnership and contributing communications and logistics support, equipment and some volunteers.

This has supported the building of a growing movement that has continued to take direct action and do real workagainst deep sea oil exploration. This has recently seen two more flotillas – meeting Texan driller Anadarko head-on in the North and South of New Zealand, has seen growing community led campaigns in WellingtonAucklandKaikoura and Otago, and two Greenpeace initiated but community led “banners on the beach” protests.

There’s now a strong movement against frontier oil drilling in New Zealand that’s being called the Nuclear Free New Zealand movement of modern times.