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Location Heard Island and McDonald Islands (to Australia)
Central coordinates 73o 30.41' East  53o 5.60' South
IBA criteria A1, A4ii, A4iii
Area 37,045 ha
Altitude 0 - 2,745m
Year of IBA assessment 2008

Summary Massive numbers of nesting seabirds include the endangered Black-browed Albatross, the vulnerable Macaroni and (Southern) Rockhopper Penguins, near threatened Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and Gentoo Penguin, >1% world population of King Penguin, Southern Giant Petrel, Fulmar Prion, Brown Skua and Black-faced Sheathbill, and an endemic (sub)species of Imperial Shag.

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.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Macaroni Penguin Eudyptes chrysolophus resident  2003-2004  1,000,000 breeding pairs  poor  A1, A4ii  Vulnerable 
King Penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus resident  2003-2004  80,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua resident  2003-2004  16,000 breeding pairs  good  A1, A4ii  Near Threatened 
Southern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes chrysocome resident  2003-2004  10,000 breeding pairs  poor  A1, A4ii  Vulnerable 
Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris resident  2003-2004  600 breeding pairs  good  A1  Near Threatened 
Light-mantled Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata resident  2003-2004  500 breeding pairs  medium  A1, A4ii  Near Threatened 
Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus resident  2003-2004  2,500 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
South Georgia Diving-petrel Pelecanoides georgicus resident  2003-2004  10,000-100,000 breeding pairs  medium  A4ii  Least Concern 
Black-faced Sheathbill Chionis minor resident  2003-2004  1,000 breeding pairs  medium  A4ii  Least Concern 
Catharacta lonnbergi resident  2003-2004  500 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Not Recognised 
A4iii Species group - seabirds 10,000 breeding pairs  unknown  A4iii   

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve 6,465,845 protected area contains site 37,045  
Heard Island and McDonald Islands Protected Area 38,760 protected area overlaps with site 37,045  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Introduced vegetation   minor
Coastline Rocky shores  major
Grassland Subantarctic; Tundra  major
Rocky areas   major
Wetlands (inland) Permanent freshwater lakes  major

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

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research 100%

Other 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.

Protection status Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve.

Access/Land-Owner requests Access is strictly controlled by the Australian Antarctic Division.

Acknowledgements The nomination was prepared by Birds Australia with assistance from Eric Woehler.

References Australian Antarctic Division (2005) Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan. Kingston, Tasmania: Australian Antarctic Division.

Woehler, E.J. (2006) Status and conservation of the seabirds of Heard Island and the McDonald Islands. Pp. 128-165 in K. Green and E.J. Woehler, eds. Heard Island, Southern Ocean Sentinel. Chipping Norton, New South Wales: Surrey Beatty and Sons.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Heard and McDonald Islands. Downloaded from on 30/09/2014

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