Heard Island and McDonald Islands Environment Protection and Management Ordinance 1987

The modern day Heard Island is dominated by Big Ben, a roughly circular active volcanic cone that rises to a height of 2745 metres above sea level. Gary Miller.

This Ordinance was made under the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Act 1953 and is administered for the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD). The Ordinance seeks to preserve and manage the Territory so as to protect its environment and the indigenous wildlife.

The Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) consists of a remote group of islands lying close together in the southern Indian Ocean at approximately 53º05'S and 73º30'E. The main islands are Heard Island and McDonald Island. The Territory is a listed World Heritage Area and is contained within the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve, a Commonwealth reserve declared under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in 2002. The HIMI Marine Reserve, including the HIMI Territory, is a category Ia protected area (strict nature reserve) to be managed primarily for science and environmental monitoring. Several species of fauna listed under the EPBC Act are also present on the islands.

Activities in the HIMI Territory are therefore subject to relevant obligations under the Ordinance, the EPBC Act, and the management plan made under that Act for the Marine Reserve - the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan.

Activities that are prohibited

Activities prohibited under the Ordinance, the EPBC Act, or the management plan and for which permits will not be issued include:

  • The bringing into the Territory of any diseased organism or live poultry; and
  • Mineral resource or fishing activity within the HIMI Marine Reserve (including the HIMI Territory).

Permit requirement to enter the Territory

A person is required to have a permit to enter the Heard Island and McDonald Islands (except in an emergency or for innocent passage) and for any proposed scientific, management or recreational activity; The Territory is taken to comprise the islands, all offshore rocks and shoals, and the 12 nautical mile territorial sea.

Activities in the Territory must be authorised by a permit

The following activities may only be carried out in the HIMI Territory if authorised by a permit issued under the Ordinance:

  • Bring any organism into the Territory.
  • Bring any dead poultry or poultry products into the Territory.
  • Take, injure, remove or engage in conduct that results in death or injury to, or interference with any organism.
  • Land an aircraft, drive a vehicle or sail a vessel.
  • Leave any equipment, material or refuse.
  • Introduce or remove any soil or other geological matter or engage in conduct that results in interference to any soil or other geological matter.
  • Collect any material.
  • Engage in conduct that results in interference with any buildings, historical relics, equipment, supplies or survey markers.

While permits may be granted for the following activities, these will only be granted in unusual circumstances and this is likely to be for management purposes only :

  • Engage in conduct that results in interference to the conduct of a scientific experiment that is the subject of a permit.
  • Engage in conduct that results in a living organism that has been introduced into the Territory escaping in the Territory.

All permits issued will contain a condition requiring compliance with the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan, and may include additional conditions arising from the Environmental Impact Assessment process.

Note: The Ordinance requires permit details to be published in the Commonwealth Government Gazette. The Australian Antarctic Division publishes a notice containing details of any permit application as soon as practicable after it has been received and another notice once a permit decision has been made.

Permit application forms [Word] are to be completed and returned to the Antarctic Territories, Environment and Policy Section of the Australian Antarctic Division, Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania 7050. Application forms should be submitted no less than six to eight weeks prior to departure of the ship to the subantarctic.

Environmental impact assessment

Before a permit can be granted the proposed activity must be assessed, in accordance with requirements of the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan, to identify the impact that it is likely to have on the environment. A Preliminary Assessment form [PDF] must be completed and returned to the AAD.

Other environmental approval and permit considerations

Proponents may need to satisfy additional environmental approval and permit requirements. In particular, research that will involve disturbance of, or interference with, seabirds or marine mammals will likely require a permit issued under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Please ensure that you are aware of all other environmental protection legal requirements for the Territory, most of which have been summarised in this website or relevant links provided, and ensure they have been satisfied before you depart on your voyage.


List of maps of the Heard Island region available in the Australian Antarctic Data Centre Map Catalogue.

Changes to work program

If, for any reason after the permit has been granted the permit-holder proposes to make changes to the research program, a request to vary the permit is to be made in writing to the Director of the Australian Antarctic Division and marked for the attention of the Antarctic Territories, Environment and Policy Section. In addition, variations to work programs are required to go through a similar assessment process to the original research proposal before a permit can be varied. That is, scientific, ethical, gazettal, environmental and operational considerations.

Non-government visits

Non-government activities, including commercial tourism and recreational activities are legitimate uses of the Territory and will be subject to the same controls as government activities. These controls are set out in the management plan and will include the completion of an Preliminary Assessment form [PDF] and permit application form [Word].

All visitors to the Territory need to be fully self-sufficient, particularly as Australia does not operate a permanent station in the area. All visitors to the Territory will also be required to indemnify the Commonwealth from any liability arising from an accident, and where appropriate, to have suitable public liability insurance.

The coordination of non-government expeditions to Heard Island is undertaken by the AAD Tourism Policy Officer, who should be contacted in the very early stages of visit planning.

Reporting requirements

Permit holders are generally required to provide a report within 60 days after expiration of the permit. The report is to include details on compliance with each permit condition and other details as required. This requirement is additional to any Australian Antarctic Science Program or Antarctic Animal Ethics Committee (AAEC) reporting requirements.


The Ordinance imposes stringent penalties for activities undertaken without a permit.

The Ordinance provides for the appointment of inspectors with powers to perform such duties for the purposes of this Ordinance as the Minister directs.


Please contact the Division with any queries concerning HIMI permits, and ask to be directed to the Permits Officer.

This page was last modified on 12 August 2010.