Cool fact…
Southern giant petrels can regurgitate foods and oils to a distance of a metre or more if they are disturbed (disturbing birds is not a 'cool' thing to do, and is against the law).

National significance

Southern elephant seals
Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina). Photo by E. McIvor (Photo: Ewan McIvor)

In addition to being recognised internationally for their conservation values, the Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) Territory and Marine Reserve are significant at the Australian national level for their contribution to the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA), their heritage values and their important wetlands.

The HIMI Marine Reserve also supports many species of seal, seabird and cetacean with conservation status and protection under Australian legislation.

National Representative System of
Marine Protected Areas

The declaration of the HIMI Marine Reserve contributes to the protection of Australia’s unique marine biodiversity through the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRPSMA) by incorporating temperate and subantarctic waters into the comprehensive and representative national system of marine protected areas.

The waters of the Reserve, which were identified in Australia’s Oceans Policy as one of five priority areas for the declaration of a marine reserve, exhibit the following values:

  • relatively untouched features and processes;
  • a distinctive location in highly productive cold waters south of the Antarctic Polar Front;
  • unique benthic and pelagic environmental features;
  • a variety of marine habitat types; and
  • importance foraging grounds for land-based marine predators from the World Heritage area.

More information about on NRSMPA is available from the Marine Protected Areas pages of the Department of the Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts website.


The islands of the HIMI Territory were listed on the Register of the National Estate on 1 November 1983. The statement of significance states:

The Island group is the only unmodified example of a sub-Antarctic Island ecosystem in the world and remains in stark contrast with the effects of man on other sub-Antarctic Islands. They are of great scientific value for the study into the effects of geographical isolation and climate on the divergent development of species. The glaciers are amongst the most dynamic in the world whilst Heard Island is the only active volcano in Australian territory. Other significant elements on Heard Island are the remains of numerous sealer's huts and try-works sites, almost untouched by human agency since their use. Such sites are relatively rare and present a major opportunity for further research (Criteria B.2 and C.2). The remains of the first Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) Base at Atlas Cove 1947-55 are also significant historically. These remains are important in the study of the colonisation of the sub-Antarctic by man and present a rare opportunity to study such relatively undisturbed sites (Criteria A.4, B.2 and C.2).

The heritage provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, have now replaced the previous legislation under which the Register was established but the Register will be retained and maintained by the Australian Heritage Council.

The new heritage provisions established a Commonwealth Heritage List, containing natural and cultural heritage places owned or controlled by the Australian Government and identified as having Commonwealth heritage values, and a National Heritage List, containing Australian places with outstanding heritage value.

The HIMI Territory was listed on the National Heritage List on 21 May 2007, meeting three of the National Heritage criteria, as:

A: a place that has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's importance in the course, or pattern, of Australia's natural or cultural history;

C: a place that has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Australia's natural or cultural history; and

D: a place that has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of:

(i) a class of Australia's natural or cultural places; or

(ii) a class of Australia's natural or cultural environments;

The HIMI Territory is also noted on the Australian Heritage Database as an ‘Indicative Place’ to be considered for inclusion on the Commonwealth Heriatge List.

More information on the heritage provisions of the EPBC Act is available from the HIMI World Heritage pages of the Department of the Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts website.


The HIMI wetland is listed on the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia, a comprehensive inventory of Australia’s nationally important wetlands, for meeting the following criteria:

  • it is a good example of a wetland type occurring within a biogeographic region in Australia;
  • it is a wetland that plays an important ecological or hydrological role in the natural functioning of a major wetland system/complex;
  • it is a wetland that is important as the habitat for animal taxa at a vulnerable stage in their life cycles, or provides a refuge when adverse conditions such as drought prevail;
  • the wetland supports 1% or more of the national populations of any native plant or animal taxa; and
  • the wetland supports native plant or animal taxa or communities which are considered important endangered or vulnerable at the national level.

The HIMI Territory is also being considered for nomination as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

More information on important Australian wetlands is available from the Wetlands pages of the Department of the Environment website. 

This page was last updated on 1 July 2014.