Coringa-Herald Reefs

Year of compilation: 2008

Site description (baseline)
The Coringa-Herald Reefs IBA is in the Coral Sea, about 400 km east of Cairns. The IBA comprises of North East Cay and South West Cay in the Herald Cays and South East Cay in the Magdelaine Cays. All three cays are part of Coringa-Herald National Nature Reserve. This reserve comprises 8856 km2 of sea and reefs with three sand cays and another three islets, ranging from 16-37 ha and covering a total area of 124 ha. The islets are made up of coral sand, rocks and coral rubble. North East Herald Cay (NEH 16 56’ 40 S, 149 11’ 37 E) and parts of South East Magdelaine Cay have thick forests of Pisonia and Cordia. Forest also formerly occurred on South West Coringa Cay but was destroyed by scale insects. South West Coringa Cay supported only modest numbers of breeding seabirds when surveyed in 1999 (a few boobies, no frigatebirds and 1000 Black Noddy), and so has been excluded from the IBA. Grasses and low shrubs grow on other islets, including South West Herald Cay (SWH 17 00’ 00 S, 149 08’ 00 E), but North West Magdelaine Islet is devoid of vegetation. In 2007, 16-year and 5-year seabird monitoring datasets were available for North East Herald Cay and South West Herald Cay, respectively, but seabirds are poorly known elsewhere. Cyclones are regular; the last significant impact was Tropical Cyclone Aivu in 1989 which caused extensive damage to the forest on North East Herald Cay. Some seabirds declined after an extreme El Nino Southern Oscillation event in 1997. The IBA also excludes Lihou Reef National Nature Reserve (which lies 100 km south-east of Coringa-Herald) and other unprotected cays and reefs in the Coral Sea as these support only small numbers of nesting seabirds. However, islets in the Lihou Reef group and East Diamond Islet have supported nesting Fairy Terns and would be included in an IBA if further surveys indicate where this vulnerable species is nesting in significant numbers.

Key biodiversity
Other regionally significant numbers of nesting seabirds in 2007 include: Great Frigatebird (932 nesting pairs on North East Herald Cay and 215 pairs on South West Herald Cay but numbers approximate, based on ratio of two frigatebird species); Masked Booby (10 pairs on North East Herald Cay and 35 pairs on South West Herald Cay but long-term average on North East Herald Cay = 30 pairs); Brown Booby (unknown numbers); Sooty Tern (unknown numbers); Crested Tern (unknown numbers) and Brown Noddy (unknown numbers). Two species of land bird breed within the IBA: Buff-banded Rail and Purple Swamphen.

Non-bird biodiversity: Nesting Green Turtles.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Continue to monitor numbers and breeding success of seabird colonies. Monitor impacts of scale insects and hawkmoths and their biological controls. Raise awareness of likely impacts of sea-level rise and sea warming.

Protected areas
The IBA overlaps with Coringa-Herald National Nature Reserve.

Land ownership
Australian Federal Government managed by the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

Site access / Land-owner requests
Access is strictly regulated.

Barry Baker kindly provided count data and comments.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Coringa-Herald Reefs. Downloaded from on 02/06/2023.