Criminal exploitation of the world’s natural resources affects our everyday lives, from the food we eat to the air we breathe.
Environmental crime encompasses a broad list of illicit activities, including:
• illicit trade of hazardous waste;
• illegal trade in wildlife;
• illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing;
• illegal logging and trade in timber.
The involvement of organized criminal networks acting across borders is one of many factors that have favoured the considerable expansion of environmental crimes in recent years. These crimes are also linked with other serious offences including theft, fraud, corruption, drugs, human trafficking, counterfeiting, firearms smuggling and money laundering.
In Western Australia, on conviction, an illegal dumping offence carries a maximum fine of $125,000 for corporations and $62,500 for individuals.
Illegal dumping is the disposal of waste on public or private land or into water without a licence, permit or approval from the relevant authority such as the Environmental Protection Agency or local council.
Illegal dumping is unsightly and puts our health and safety at risk, especially when hazardous chemicals or asbestos are involved and can harm the environment by polluting land and waters.
Offenders also avoid paying disposal fees, licence fees and the waste levy, and illegal operators undermine the legitimate waste market by undercutting honest operators.
Our unique flora and fauna are especially prized overseas. Lizards, reptiles and birds – such as parrots – are popular trophies, destined mostly for the USA, Japan and Europe, where collectors will pay big sums. Australia’s seven black cockatoo species are highly sought after, with some individual birds fetching up to $30,000.
It is an offence to import, sell or keep illegally trafficked wildlife (or their eggs or offspring) in Western Australia. It is not only a biosecurity risk, but it attacks our agricultural industry, native animal populations and spreads disease.
Illegal wildlife trafficking is also incredibly stressful on the animals. They face extremes of temperature, asphyxiation, dehydration, starvation and trauma.
Experts at TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, estimate that the illegal wildlife trade runs into billions of dollars.
Some examples of illegal wildlife trade are well known, such as poaching of elephants for ivory and tigers for their skins and bones. However, countless other species are similarly overexploited, from marine turtles to timber trees.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
This is fishing which does not comply with national, regional or global fisheries conservation and management obligations.
IUU fishing can occur within zones of national jurisdiction, within areas of control of regional fisheries bodies, or on the high seas.
IUU fishing puts at risk millions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs as valuable fish resources are wantonly depleted below sustainable levels. Disregard for the environment by way of high seabird mortality and abandonment of fishing gear gives rise to even more concern, as does the general disregard for crew safety on IUU boats.
Illegal logging & trading in timber
Illegal logging is a major global problem. The theft, laundering and trade of illegal timber happens across the world, in all types of forests. Driven mostly by profit, illegal logging has negative impacts on forest ecosystems, communities and economies.
The United Nations and Interpol estimate that illegal logging costs the global community up to $206 billion each year. This makes it the largest environmental crime by value in the world.
Australia is not immune to the trade of illegally logged timber. It is estimated that up to 10%, or $800 million, of our timber imports could come from high-risk sources every year. There are also isolated cases of high-value Australian timber being illegally logged.