Heard and McDonald Islands, Australia

Heard and MacDonald (Islands)

Heard Island and McDonald Islands

One of the permanent inhabitants of Heard Island are the king penguins. They share the rocky island with a colony of sea lions and huge bird bazaars where gulls and petrels nest.

Australia’s Sub-Antarctic Archipelago.

Herd is rugged and mountainous, 80% covered with compacted snow and small glaciers that form the island’s coastline. It represents the above-water part of the formerly also underwater volcano of the Kerguelen submarine plateau.

The island is dominated by the Big Ben mountain range with its highest peak, Mawson Volcanic Peak. The volcano is covered by glaciers, which descend to the sea by sheer cliffs 15-30 m high. Mawson is the highest peak in the Commonwealth of Australia. This nearly three-kilometer peak is taller than Mount Kosciuszko, 2,228 meters, the highest point in continental Australia.

Mawson is one of only two active volcanoes in the Commonwealth of Australia and the entire Antarctic zone.

The second volcano is located on a small and rocky island of Macdonald, which is located 43,5 km west of Heard. In 1992, it broke its long silence and began erupting, resulting in a doubling of its area (from 1 to 2.5 km 2 ), increasing its height and completely destroying vegetation.

Since then, eruptions on Macdonald have occurred from time to time, most recently in 2005. The highest point of the island is a small plateau with a glacier at a total height of 230 m above sea level. The plateau is surrounded by steep cliffs sloping down to the coast and consists of the northern plateau and the southern steep Maxwell Hill.

The islands are in a sub-Antarctic climate zone; it is windy and overcast all year long, and in the fall and winter it may rain or snow for long periods.

Other parts of the archipelago are a number of small outlying islets, rocks and reefs, the largest of which are the Shag Islands, 10 kilometres north of Heard, and Flat Island and Meyer Rock, to the south of Macdonald.

This Australian archipelago includes territorial waters within 12 miles of each island’s shoreline.

The abundance of animals, pristine nature, and unique landscape of the islands attract many tourists. There are no wharf facilities on shore, liners anchor offshore and tourists see the islands from the boat: landing ashore is strictly forbidden.

The islands are named after their discoverers. The American captain John Hurd discovered the archipelago on November 25, 1853, when his ship Oriental was sailing from Boston to Melbourne and the main island was named after him.

The second largest island was discovered on January 4, 1854 by the captain of the British ship Semarang, William Macdonald, and was named after him.

Until the 1880s, the islands were visited quite often, but interest in them disappeared, as it turned out to be too expensive to export the animals, and the population of seals was almost completely destroyed.

The 16 most beautiful villages of New Aquitaine, France

From 1910 the islands were considered a British colonial possession until they were handed over to Australia in 1947.


Despite the harsh climate, Heard, MacDonald, and the surrounding small islets are nesting grounds for seabirds and rookeries of marine animals typical of the sub-Antarctic belt. Sea pigeons, frigates and albatrosses nest on the cliffs and coastline, as do king and emperor penguins and the world’s largest colony of goldeneye penguins. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of birds, especially on Exile and Franklin Cliffs on the south shore of Heard Island. Mass accumulations of animals – sea elephants, as well as birds appear in the summer time on the territories of Heard – Elephant-Spit Peninsula, on the shores of Winston and Manning lagoons, and Gautley Glacier, which are free of snow and ice.

Because of the remoteness of the islands, the nature of these places is almost untouched by man. There is not a single introduced (alien, imported) species of living organism here. Coastal commercial fishing is allowed to a limited extent.

The only building on Heard Island is the abandoned research station Anare Station, which was used in 1947-1954 by the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition.

Heard Island and Macdonald Islands on a map

General Information

Location : South of the Indian Ocean. Administrative affiliation : Outer Australian territories. Main islands : Heard and Macdonald. Origin : volcanic.


Heard Island : area – 368 km2 , length – 43 km, width – 21 km. Macdonald Island : area – 2.5 km 2 . Population : uninhabited islands. Highest point: 2,745 m, Mawson Volcano (Heard Island, Big Ben Massif). Minimum height above sea level : 0 m, Indian Ocean. Length of coastline : 101,9 km. Distances : 4099 km southwest of Perth (Australia), 4200 km southeast of South Africa, 3830 km southeast of the island of Madagascar, 1630 km north of the coast of Antarctica.

Climate and weather

Sub-Antarctic maritime. Mild winters, cold summers. Average temperature in January : +0.1°C Average temperature in July : +4.2°C. Average water temperature : +3.5°С. Average annual precipitation : up to 1900 mm. Average annual relative humidity : 80%.

Places of interest:


The Exile and Franklin Cliffs, the Elephant-Spit Peninsula, Winston and Manning Lagoons, Gautley Glacier, Cape Pillar and Meyer Rock (Heard Island), bird colonies, rookeries of sea animals, volcanic landscapes, caves


Remains of a seal hunter settlement (second half of the 19th century), abandoned research station Anare Station (1947-1954).

Curious Facts

Although the islands are uninhabited, they have a national .hm top-level domain on the Internet. The glaciers of Heard Island are small and capable of melting very quickly, reacting to the slightest change in the climate – faster than other glaciers in the world. Therefore, they play a very important role in tracking climate change. Glaciers have shrunk considerably in recent decades. The closest land to the Heard and McDonald Islands is Kerguelen Island, part of the French South and Antarctic Territories, 450 km to the northwest. Mawson volcano on Heard Island holds another record: it is the only known continuously active volcano in the subarctic region of the earth. As for volcano Macdonald, it has “woken up” relatively recently, after coming out of a quiescent state, which lasted about 75 thousand years. The relatively late discovery of the islands is explained by the fact that they are located at the latitude of the “raging fifties”, located between the “roaring forties” and “howling sixties”. Conditions here are exceptionally unfavorable for sailing ships, always with strong westerly winds. ■ Since the discovery of Heard Island in 1855, people have landed on it some 240 times. But Macdonald has been visited only twice: in 1971 and 1980 by scientists – geographers and geologists, not more than 50 people in all. For collectors are of great value preserved postal items from Heard Island, when there was a post office on it in the 1940s-1950s, during the period of the Australian Antarctic Research Expedition. From the point of view of Australians, Mawson Volcano is not the highest peak in Australia, but the second highest. The highest mountain in Australia is Mount McClintock (3,490 m), located in Antarctica, in the Australian Antarctic Territory, as they call the sector of Antarctica that Australia claims.

Global Pilgrimage Sites

Heard Island and McDonald Islands

Heard Island and McDonald Islands (Indian Ocean)

Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI for short) is a small uninhabited[1] archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean. It consists of the two main islands, Heard and McDonald Islands, as well as many small outlying islets, rocks, and reefs. They are all outer territories of Australia.



The islands are some of the most remote places on Earth: they are about 4099 km southwest of Perth, Western Australia [2] , 3845 km southwest of Cape Leeuwin (the extreme southwest point of Australia), 4200 km southeast of South Africa, 3830 km southeast of Madagascar, 1630 km north of Antarctica and 450 km southeast of Kerguelen [3] .

Heard Island ( -53.1 , 73.516667 53°06′ S. 73°31′ E. / 53.1° S. 73.516667° E. (G) (O) ) is the top of a submarine volcano of the Kerguelen Plateau and is 43 kilometers long and 21 kilometers wide. Mawson Peak is the highest point on the island and is 2,745 meters above sea level. It is one of the two active volcanoes and at the same time the highest point on the territory belonging to Australia. About 80% of the surface of Heard is covered by snow and ice, which forms the character of the island’s coastline. The area of the island is 368 km².

MacDonald Island ( -53.05 , 72.616667 53°03′ S 72°37′ E / 53.05° S 72.616667° E (G) (O) ) – small and rocky, located 44 kilometers to the west, also volcanic in origin. Its highest point is 230 meters above sea level. The island is bounded by steep cliffs and previously consisted of two parts – the northern plateau and the southern steep Maxwell Hill, connected by a narrow isthmus. The area of the island is 2.5 km².

Of the other islands in the archipelago, the largest, Shag Island, is located 10 kilometers north of Heard, while Flat Island (now part of Macdonald) and Meyer Rock are slightly north of Macdonald. The territory also includes all territorial waters within 12 navigational miles of the shoreline. Together with these islets, the total area of the archipelago is 372 km².

Lithuania is the largest and most populous Baltic country

The volcano on McDonald Island, after being dormant for 75,000 years, has been active since 1992, with several eruptions since then. Satellite images obtained in 2004 showed that, due to volcanic activity, Macdonald Island merged with Flat Island into one island, roughly doubling its area [4] . As a result of volcanic activity between November 2000 and the end of 2001, the area of Macdonald Island increased from 1.13 to 2.45 km², and the highest peak is now about 230 meters high instead of 186 meters in 1980 [5] . However, volcanic activity has destroyed almost all vegetation on the island [6] . The last eruption is believed to have occurred on August 10, 2005. At present, the recovery of the vegetation cover is continuing [5] .

According to NASA satellite data, the Mawson Peak volcano began erupting on Heard Island in late October 2012 and continues to this day [7] .

There are no ports or harbors on Heard or MacDonald, and seagoing vessels have to anchor off the coast. The coastline is 101.9 km long, there is a 12-mile (22 km) zone of territorial waters, and a 200-mile (370 km) zone has been declared an exclusive fishing zone by Australia [8] .

The antipode for central Mawson Peak is located less than 70 km southwest of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada [9] .


The climate is subantarctic with mild winters (+0.1 °C) and cold summers (+4.2 °C). Most days of the year are windy and overcast. Winds are predominantly westerly and consistently strong. Monthly average wind speeds range from about 26 to 33.5 km/h, gusts over 180 km/h have been recorded. Annual precipitation at sea level on Heard Island is typically between 1,300 and 1,900 mm. Precipitation falls every three days out of four, usually as drizzle or snow [10] .



The islands are in the ecological region of the island tundra of the southern Indian Ocean, which includes several sub-Antarctic islands. In this cold climate, plants are represented mainly by grasses, mosses, and lichens. The low plant diversity is due to island isolation, small land size, a harsh climate, a short, cold growing season, and, in Herd’s case, significant ice cover. The main environmental determinants for vegetation on subantarctic islands are: exposure to wind and salt spray, water availability, soil composition, nutrient availability, trampling by birds and seals, and, in some cases, altitude. Under Herd, the effects of salt spray and the presence of breeding and molting birds and seals particularly affect the composition and structure of vegetation in coastal areas.

Museum of local history in Comrat
Mosses, liverworts, and lichens

Mosses and lichens are significant contributors to the overall biodiversity of Herd, with 43 species of mosses, 19 liverworts, and 71 lichens recorded, often occupying habitats unsuitable for vascular plants, such as cliffs. Mosses are present in most large plant communities. Lichens are common on exposed rocks and are the dominant vegetation in some areas. McDonald’s 1980 study recorded a much smaller diversity of such plants, namely four species of mosses, eight lichens, and some algae and fungi.


At least 100 species of terrestrial algae are known on Herd, usually growing in permanently wet and ephemeral habitats. Marine forests of the giant Antarctic alga Durvillaea antarctica occur at various points on the island and at least 17 other species of seaweed will be added after the last samples collected are identified. The low diversity of algae is due to the island’s isolation from other areas, uninhabitable beaches, constant rubbing by waves, tides, and small rocks, and the extent of glaciers in the sea in many areas.


The islands, now little affected by human activity, are home to huge populations of penguins, pinnipeds, and seabirds [11] .


Pinnipeds on Heard were virtually exterminated in the late 19th century, after which the seal population became too small for economic use. Since then their population has increased and been protected. Among the pinnipeds breeding on Heard: southern elephant seals, Kerguelen seals, and subtropical harbor seals. Sea leopards regularly visit rookeries in winter, but they do not breed in the archipelago. Crab-eaters, Ross and Weddell seals are only occasional visitors [12] .


There are no predators on Heard and McDonald and they provide a favorable habitat and breeding ground in the middle of the vast Southern Ocean for a variety of birds. The surrounding waters provide food for the birds. The islands have been identified by BirdLife International as an important area for birds because they contain a very large number of nesting seabirds [13] .

Barcelona is the second city of Spain

Nineteen bird species have been recorded as nesting on the Heard Islands [14] and McDonald Islands, although volcanic activity on McDonald over the past decade has likely led to a decrease in vegetation cover and fewer bird nesting sites [15] .


Heard Island was discovered by John Heard, an American seal-hunting captain, on November 25, 1853, when his ship Oriental was sailing from Boston to Melbourne. Shortly after Heard’s discovery, on January 4, 1854, the captain of the ship Samarang, William MacDonald, discovered the island named after him. After that, for more than 20 years, the islands were regularly visited by hunting expeditions and a small settlement of hunters (up to 200 people in population) emerged. By 1880, however, most of the seal population was destroyed and the hunters left the island. After that until the Douglas Mawson expedition in 1929 there was almost no economic or scientific interest in the archipelago [16]. People have landed on Macdonald only twice in history – in 1971 and 1980. No official human landings have been recorded on the neighboring island of Flat Island.

The archipelago had belonged to Great Britain since 1910, when that country’s flag was raised on Heard. On December 26, 1947, the islands were ceded to Australia and became part of the Australian Antarctic Territory, but after Australia signed the Antarctic Convention in 1961, they formed a separate outer territory. There is no permanent population, but the islands are visited by tourists (without landing ashore) and scientific expeditions (to Heard Island).

Heard and McDonald Islands were listed as a National Treasure of Australia in 1983, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Although the islands are uninhabited, they have been assigned their own .hm domain [17] .

Governance and economy

The islands are a territory (Heard Island Territory and Macdonald Islands) under Australian management from Hobart by the Australian Antarctic Survey of Australia’s Department of Sustainable Development, Environment, Water Resources, People and Communities. They are home to a large number of seals and birds. The islands contain a marine reserve of 65,000 km², mostly visited by researchers. There is no permanent population [8] .

From 1947 to 1955, scientists visited a camp on Herd near Atlas Cove in the northwestern part of the island, which was occupied again in 1969 by American scientists and expanded in 1971 by French explorers. On Macdonald, scientists landed in 1971 near Williams Bay. Later expeditions used the temporary base near Spit Bay in northeastern Herd on several occasions, such as in 1988, 1992-93 and 2004-05.

Without a population, there is no economic activity. The only natural resource of the islands is fish; the Australian government allows limited fishing in the surrounding waters [8] . The islands’ time zone is UTC +5 [18] .

( No ratings yet )
Like this post? Please share to your friends:
Leave a Reply

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: