Greenpeace via Reuters
Greenpeace wanted to catch the eyes of those in power with this sign. But it caught attention for the wrong reasons, by damaging one of Peru's most famous and precious archaeological sites.

Greenpeace Apologizes for Wrecking Nazca Lines as Peru Prepares Criminal Charges


The glaring yellow letters, urging respect for the environment, proclaimed, “Time for Change! The Future is Renewable.”

However, the very respect being demanded for the planet was not accorded to the Nazca Lines, an ancient UNESCO Heritage Site in Peru, by Greenpeace workers who tromped all around and upon one of the phantasmagorical figures depicted on the sacred site in order to plant their message.

While the banner did catch eyes, it did not do so for the reasons the environmental activists had hoped. Now the Peruvian government plans to file criminal charges against the environmental group for its irreversible destruction of one section of a national treasure. The delicate drawings, etched into the desert on Peru’s coast between 2,000 and 1,500 years ago, depict figures such as a spider and a hummingbird—sketches that are now indeed accompanied by footprints and even an imprint of the letter “C” from the word “Greenpeace.”

“It’s a true slap in the face at everything Peruvians consider sacred,” said the country’s deputy culture minister, Luis Jaime Castillo, to the Associated Press. “They are absolutely fragile. They are black rocks on a white background. You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years. And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognized of all.”

The idea, Greenpeace said in an initial apology that expressed sorrow at the Peruvian people’s upset rather than remorse at having damaged the ancient site, was to catch the eye of delegates flying over the area en route to climate talks in Lima. Greenpeace’s volunteers had been "absolutely careful to protect the Nazca Lines," Greenpeace spokeswoman Tina Loeffelbein told BBC News. But a photo taken by a drone and published in The New York Times clearly shows footprints and even an imprint of the letter C in the area near the hummingbird.

Drone image of damage to Nazca Lines by Greenpeace message (Photo: Peru Ministry of Culture, via The New York Times)

Castillo told the Times that about a dozen activists trudged more than a mile through the desert to the forbidden area to place the letters. Greenpeace’s very attempt to mitigate any damage—by walking single file—may have exacerbated the damage, according to Castillo’s description.

“A bad step, a heavy step, what it does is that it marks the ground forever,” he told The New York Times. “There is no known technique to restore it the way it was.”

Greenpeace workers lay out letters for environmental message in delicate, and therefore restricted, territory in the Peruvian desert, damaging the famed Nazca Lines. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press)

Greenpeace has since released a second statement about the debacle.

“The decision to engage in this activity shows a complete disregard for the culture of Peru and the importance of protecting sacred sites everywhere. There is no apology sufficient enough to make up for this serious lack of judgment,” said Greenpeace U.S. Executive Director Annie Leonard on December 12. “I know my international colleagues who engaged in this activity did not do so with malice, but that doesn’t mitigate the result. It is a shame that all of Greenpeace must now bear.”

She acknowledged that the “Nazca Lines situation has undermined the trust of many allies and supporters that we have been working so hard to build” and promised to earn back that trust.

“I know it will take time and substantial effort to rebuild the trust we have lost, and I am committed to doing that,” Leonard said. “I am also committed to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable and that we put safeguards in place to ensure that nothing like this happens ever again.”

“We are not ready to accept apologies from anybody,” Castillo told The New York Times. “Let them apologize after they repair the damage.”

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MarinDemSolstice's picture
Submitted by MarinDemSolstice on
Unfortunately in this instance an apology won't undo the physical damage done to the pristine condition of this fragile high desert mountain environment. The Greenpeace activist actions are indicative of the selfishness that has taken hold in today's world even among so-called protectors of the Earth Mother of which Greenpeace activist actions now also make them suspect. Unbelieveable behavior that can not be undone and will forever leave not only physical scars on the landscape, but also deep emotional scars upon the population of those who really care.

Hidden Wolf's picture
Hidden Wolf
Submitted by Hidden Wolf on
To Greenpeace, in the future if you are not invited on sacred native lands consider yourself to be trespassing at all times. What you may consider to be good for the planet in this case desecrated Holy lands and the marks of your ignorance will now be there for all to see as long as the Nazca Lines exist. Does it make you proud to be part of a team that destroys instead of preserving. Holy Land is part of the Earth stay off it and I hope they fine you a thousand dollars per stone a year as long as your group exists.

Juliet's picture
Submitted by Juliet on
There's a time and a place for every message. On that plateau is neither the place, nor ever the time.

jofloresz's picture
Submitted by jofloresz on
These are locals look at them and then round them up and lock um up!!!! And then sue the hell out of greenpeace! round them up and lock them up too!!!! Why do natives have to put up with this shit???!!!!! they are just as arrogant and white supremacists mentality like the freakin kkk damn them!!!!!

Bill Hayes
Bill Hayes
Submitted by Bill Hayes on
Theirs was a wholly uncalled for act, tremendously thoughtless, and the trespassers should be held accountable, but do you think it adds to the story by lying as to what they actually did? While the jerks, by walking on the site, likely caused some damage, they did not wreck (cause the destruction of) the Nazca Lines. In the future, please use a little journalistic integrity and stick with the facts.

Kitsap River
Kitsap River
Submitted by Kitsap River on
In addition to offending the people of Peru, this offends a lot of others: archaeologists and those who study it for fun; Indigenous peoples everywhere, I suspect; anybody who has respect and cares about Heritage sites; etc. I have supported Greenpeace for some (certainly not all) of their actions in the past, but no more. They will not get another dime, another share, another minute of my activism, nothing, not from our family. This is an outrage and so is their initial nopology. I strongly doubt they are ever going to be able to restore the Nazca line they damaged, and they have once again demonstrated their lack of respect for culture and anything other than their own priorities. (I'm thinking back to their opposition and aggression against the Makah tribe for hunting ONE whale in a 100 year period from a non-endangered species in the traditional manner, as is their cultural sacred tradition and as is stipulated in their treaty that they may do. That was one Greenpeace action I stood against. Treaty rights come first.) Goodbye Greenpeace. I wonder how many others will walk away from them for the same reasons or similar ones. I hope the numbers are massive.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
This world is full of idiots! Even those who claim to care and help are idiots! It's ironic that Greenpeace has done it's share of messing up irretrievable ancient treasures, and all while urging other to have respect for the earth. That's right along with P.E.T.A. (People for the "Ethical" Treatment of Animals) euthanizing donated pets without even trying to place them in a home. What's next? Amnesty International torturing people who torture others?