Cool fact…
Satellite images have shown that Big Ben can occasionally modify the predominantly westerly airstream by affecting cloud formations for several hundred kilometres downwind of Heard Island.

Outstanding values

Teeming with wildlife including these elephant seals, Heard Island and McDonald Islands is the most isolated Australian external territory.
Teeming with wildlife including these elephant seals, Heard Island and McDonald Islands is the most isolated Australian external territory. (Photo: Stephen Brown/AAD)

The Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) was inscribed on the World Heritage list for satisfying the World Heritage Convention’s criterion (i) and criterion (ii) for outstanding natural values of importance to all humankind.

Examples of these values are given below.

The World Heritage values of Australian World Heritage properties are protected matters of ‘National Environmental Significance’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act).

The Management Plan for the HIMI Marine Reserve includes measures to ensure that the World Heritage Values of the HIMI Territory are protected, conserved and presented to the Australian and global community.

Criterion (i)

‘an outstanding example representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of land forms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features’

Heard Island and McDonald Islands contains outstanding examples of physical and biological processes continuing in an essentially undisturbed environment, particularly physical processes which provide an understanding of the role of crustal plates in the formation of ocean basins and continents and of atmospheric and oceanic warming, and biological processes including colonisation and speciation. Examples of these World Heritage values include:

  • an active example of plume volcanism, and direct geological evidence of the action of the longest operational plume system known (plumes are the unseen, upward movements of relatively warm parts of the earth’s mantle)
  • geological evidence of plume interaction with overlying crustal plates
    a uniquely wide range of isotopic compositions of elements in volcanic rocks, providing insight into mantle plume composition
  • the only known continuously active volcano on a subantarctic island
    fast-flowing glaciers that retreat and advance quickly in response to changes in temperature and precipitation;
  • evidence of dramatic fluctuation in glacier extent in recent decades, and consequent changes in the total glaciated area
  • formation of newly deglaciated areas

Criterion (ii)

‘an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals’

Heard Island and McDonald Islands, the only subantarctic islands free of introduced species and with negligible modification by humans, provide a classic example of a subantarctic island group with low species diversity and large populations of certain species. Examples of the World Heritage values include:

  • the unmodified status of the Islands and intact ecosystems, providing opportunities for ecological research investigating population dynamics, species interactions, propagule immigration, plant colonisation, species recolonisation, and monitoring of the health and stability of the larger Southern Ocean ecosystem
  • crucial habitat and breeding grounds for large numbers of marine birds and mammals
  • areas of newly deglaciated land providing habitat for plants and animals and an outstanding location for researching plant colonisation
  • ice-free areas of land isolated from each other by glaciers which provide unparalleled opportunities for study of dispersal and establishment of plants
  • absence of human disturbance, providing unique opportunities for research into population dynamics of plant and animal species
  • important breeding location for burrowing birds due to the absence of introduced mammals
  • large breeding populations of flying birds and penguins
  • species of conservation significance (such as the endemic Heard shag Phalacrocorax nivalis and the endemic sub-species Heard Island sheathbill Chionis minor nasicornis)
  • bird predator populations unaffected by the presence of introduced predators
  • populations of invertebrate species, some endemic to Heard and McDonald Islands, and some endemic to the Heard and McDonald Islands/Kerguelen region
  • populations of seal species, including breeding southern elephant seals, Antarctic fur seals, and subantarctic fur seals
  • the diversity of plant and animal species
This page was last modified on 28 February 2005.