Natural processes like pollination, photosynthesis and decomposition in nature provide humanity with ecological services. However, the removal of critical keystone species could upset the balance, causing the system to collapse. Through their work to protect the environment, the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI), also known as the Green Scorpions, aim to prevent this from happening.
On May 22, the Department of Environmental Affairs hosted a Media Roundtable to discuss the work Green Scorpions over the 2017/18 period. This included the inspection of 4 155 facilities. Some of the key points highlighted were the increase in plastic waste and the illegal harvesting of ocean resources. Issues were divided into brown, blue and green categories.
There are Green Scorpions in the National Department of Environmental Affairs, provincial environmental departments and parks authorities, certain municipalities and national parks.
Brown issues relate to air pollution, waste disposal, and EIA developments. These tend to be larger, more complex crimes. Some sectors that fall within the brown issues are refineries, the cement industry, paper and pulp, medical waste, hazardous waste, landfills and oil recyclers to name a few.
In the last four years, plastic waste has become a problem. “As a result of our participation in global operations we have detected unlawful waste entering the country from the European Union and the Middle East,” says Frances Craigie, the chief directorate of enforcement. Oil, medical and plastic waste is imported into South Africa and disposed of illegally.
Of the total number of facilities inspected, 46.5% were against brown legislative requirements.
The blue issues address marine and freshwater problems, including wastewater treatment and sea outfalls. The Green Scorpions also provide critical support within the co-ordinated and integrated compliance and enforcement initiative of Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy, a project aiming to unlock the economic potential of South Africa’s oceans.
“In the 2018/19 period, Phakisa operations resulted in confiscations to the value of R25 million worth of marine species, mainly abalone and lobster,” says Craigie. Part of this includes responding to illegal fishing in South Africa’s marine protected areas.
The green issues involve flora and fauna, namely rhino poaching, alien invasive species and unlawful plant harvesting. Of the 2 640 EMIs on the national register, 1 723 (65.2%) are field rangers employed at national and provincial parks.
The leopard skin trade, the rhino poaching crisis, cycads, illegal trade of reptiles and the eradication of the ring-necked parakeet are some of their priority projects. The Green Scorpions also look at pet shops, nurseries, taxidermists, lion breeding facilities and traditional medicine markets.
EMIs also ensure that all animals bound for export or import have the correct permits. “EMIs spend thousands of hours going through the necessary paperwork and permits at OR Tambo International Airport,” says Craigie. The Green Scorpions were also involved with Operation Thunderstorm, targeting cross-border wildlife crime.
Basic EMI training is offered in May and October every year. Advanced training is accessible for alien invasive species, waste and pollution sampling, biodiversity investigations and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) activities.
Helping the Green Scorpions
It turns out anyone can be an ‘environmental Lancelot’ and ‘sustainability Guinevere’ by reporting environmental crimes to the Green Scorpions hotline: 080 020 5005.
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