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World Heritage Site

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Heard and McDonald Islands

Heard and McDonald Islands

Heard Island and McDonald Islands are uninhabited, barren islands located in the Southern Ocean, with a complete absence of alien plants and animals, as well as human impact.

The islands have been territories of Australia since 1947, and contain the only two active volcanoes in Australian territory, one of which, Mawson Peak, is the highest Australian mountain.

Map of Heard and McDonald Islands


  • Natural

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Site Info

Full name: Heard and McDonald Islands

Unesco ID: 577

Inscribed: 1997

Type: Natural

Criteria: 8   9  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 1997 - Inscribed 
  • 1991 - Referred Bureau - 1st ever sub-Antarctic nomination. Uniqueness c.f. other such islands not clear. Not sure if it meets criteria


The site has 1 locations.

  • Heard and McDonald Islands


The site has 23 connections.


  • Endemic Bird Species: Heard Island Cormorant, Balck-faced Sheathbill (subspecies)
  • Penguins: King, Gentoo, Adelie, Chinstrap, Rockhopper, Macaroni
  • Icebergs: Morgan's Iceberg
  • Seals: fur seal
  • Lava tubes: "The few known lava tube caves in the Galapagos Islands and Heard and MacDonald Islands are relatively short and less significant" - taken from the comparative evaluation part of the AB review for Jeju
  • Antarctic Floristic Kingdom
  • Lava lakes: Mawson Peak (Lava lake activity suggested by satellite remote-sensing data)
  • Albatross breeding sites: Wandering, Black-browed, Light-mantled


  • Dependent territories: (Australia)
  • Uninhabited islands: Never inhabited
  • Indian Ocean
  • Territorial Highest points: "Big Ben" the summit of Heard Island 2745m/9006 ft (Mt Kosciuszko on "mainland" Australia is only 2229m/7313ft)
  • Glaciers: "Over 80 percent of Heard Island is permanently covered by ice, and twelve major glaciers (and several minor) descend from Big Ben....Glaciers that formerly terminated at sea level in 1947 now terminate hundreds of metres inland." and "In 1947, Heard Island's glaciers covered 288 km2 or 79 percent of the island. By 1988 this had decreased by 11 percent to 257 km2. About half of this change occurred during the 1980s" Named glaciers include Gotley (the largest at 13kms long), Brown, Compton, Winston, Stephenson and Baudissin
  • Recently Active Volcanoes: The main volcano on Heard Island is called Big Ben (with Mawson Peak as the summit). Others are Mt Dixon and Laurens Peninsular. Eruptions were recorded in 2008, 2007, 2006, 2003-04, 2000-01, 1993, 1992, 1985-87, 1954, 1953, 1950-52, 1910. McDonald island erupted 1996-2001, 2004, 2005 and doubled in size between 1980 and 2001
  • Southernmost: No. 2, at 53?10 S
  • Formerly inhabited islands: "In the sealing period from 1855 to 1880, a number of American sealers spent a year or more on the island, living in appalling conditions in dark smelly huts, also at Oil Barrel Point. At its peak the community consisted of 200 people. " (Wiki)
  • World's Highest Topographically isolated summits: Mawson Peak, Heard Island 30th most isolated (2046/2745)

Human Activity


  • Eocene: The base rock formation in the Heard Island is marine geology formation of middle Eocene to early Oligocene limestones; the volcanic eruptions over lie these formations. (Wiki)


  • Named after individual people: Captain John Heard, American sealer who sighted the island on 25 November 1853 & Captain William McDonald, who discovered the McDonald Islands close to Heard Island six weeks later, on 4 January 1854
  • Isolated WHS: 3400 kms from La Morne
  • Unusual Entry Requirements or Restrictions: "(a) all clothing, personal gear (such as bags, cameras, back packs) and emergency equipment (such as sleeping bags, ropes) to be taken ashore must be inspected for organisms (including reproductive material), which if found must be removed and destroyed. (b) footwear to be taken ashore must be thoroughly scrubbed to remove all organisms (including reproductive material) which if found must be destroyed, and must be treated with a biocide" (Management Plan - some operators carry "sterile clothing" which has to be worn)
  • Takes more than 5 days to visit: 25 day cruise, if it ever runs Link


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