Heard and McDonald Islands

Year of compilation: 2008

Site description
The Heard and McDonald Islands IBA contains the islands in the Australian Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) in the Indian Ocean sector of the Southern Ocean. It lies about 1500 km north of Antarctica and over 4000 km south-west of Australia. Heard Island is 368 km2 and dominated by Big Ben, an active volcano rising to Mawson Peak, at 2745 m. Most of the island is covered in snow and glacial ice (about 70%) and black volcanic rocks, with vegetation and bird nests and colonies restricted to the coastal fringe. The McDonald Islands group (2.45 km2, max altitude 230 m, 43.5 km west of Heard Island) includes McDonald Island, Flat Island and Meyer Rock. McDonald Island is also volcanic; since 1980, it has doubled in size and grown in height by almost 100 m as a result of lava flows in the 1990s. The IBA is included within the 65,000 km2 Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve (a category 1a IUCN protected area or strict nature reserve) and World Heritage Area which include the islands, all inshore waters to 12 nautical miles and some offshore waters.

Key biodiversity
Other nesting seabirds include around 1100 pairs of an endemic subspecies of Imperial Shag, 0-1 pairs of Wandering Albatross, 1000-2500 pairs of Cape Petrel, about 100,000 pairs of Antarctic Prion, 1000-10,000 pairs of Common Diving-Petrels, unknown numbers of Wilson’s Storm-petrel, about 250 pairs of Kelp Gull and 100-200 pairs of Antarctic Tern (Woehler 2006).

Non-bird biodiversity: Three species of seal breed on Heard Island: Southern Elephant Seal, Antarctic Fur Seal and Subantarctic Fur Seal. The only known introduced fauna species are a thrip and a mite. Twelve species of vascular plants are present. Two species of alien plants are present: Poa annua and Leptinella plumosa.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Maintain strong quarantine measures. Monitor numbers of seabirds and investigate causes for any changes (increases and decreases).

Protected areas
Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve.

Land ownership
Australian Federal Government with management the responsibility of the Australian Antarctic Division.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Heard and McDonald Islands. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/01/2021.