World Heritage - Macquarie Island

Map showing location of Macquarie Island
Map showing location of Macquarie Island. Graphics: Peter Boyer
Orca surrounded by birds and penguinsVegetation, sea in background

Long celebrated as one of the wonder spots of the world, the Macquarie Island Nature Reserve lies 1500 km south-southeast of Tasmania, halfway between Australia and Antarctica. As part of Tasmania, it is managed as a Nature Reserve under the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970 and is subject to the provisions of that Act, which relate to entry to reserves and activities within them. This Act is administered by the Parks and Wildlife Service, a division of the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry, Water and Environment.

One of the world's outstanding geological features, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List on 3 December 1997. The island is subject to relevant obligations under the EPBC Act. Fauna listed under state and national threatened species legislation are also present on the island. Fauna projects will be assessed according to state priorities and protocols. Under the Act a permit is required to enter a reserve.

Macquarie Island is the only place on earth formed entirely of oceanic crust and rocks formed on or below the seabed, deep beneath the earth's surface. This is an island of great beauty and outstanding natural diversity, a breeding place for many of the Southern Ocean's birds and animals.

Since the time of its discovery in 1810, Macquarie Island has had a long history of exploitation.

Sealers operated on the island for over a hundred years until the industry ceased in 1919. Between 1911-1914 it was the subantarctic radio base for Australia's first Antarctic expedition, under the leadership of Sir Douglas Mawson.

An ANARE station, Australia's second, was established in 1948 on the northern isthmus of the island and is still in operation today. It is the longest continuously operating of Australia's stations.

As an International Biosphere Reserve, and due to its position as the only base between Australia and Antarctica, Macquarie Island is an important global monitoring location for scientific research, including monitoring southern hemisphere climatic data. For many years, the Australian Geological Survey Organisation (now Geoscience Australia, GA) has maintained a magnetic observatory on Macquarie Island, which commenced regular recording of the magnetic field in April 1952. Sporadic absolute measurements were made on the site as early as 1950. GA also undertakes regular seismological measurements.

The island's prolific plants and wildlife are a paradise for botanists and biologists.

As participants in a multi-disciplinary twelve year research program, known as RiSCC, (Regional Sensitivity to Climate Change in Terrestrial Ecosystems), Australian scientists are working on both Heard Island and Macquarie Island. These sites have been identified for the study of what is called the Antarctic Environmental Gradient (AEG). This runs from the Dry Valley region in Antarctica out to the most northerly of the Southern Ocean islands.

The fact that we are studying both islands together is significant, for Heard Island lies below the Antarctic Polar Frontal Zone (the APFZ, also known as the Convergence) while Macquarie Island lies above it. In general, those islands lying to the south of the APFZ are more heavily glaciated than those lying to the north. Approximately 80% of Heard Island is covered in glaciers, while Macquarie Island is not glaciated at all.

The aim of the RiSCC program is to understand the interactions between climate change and biodiversity and the functioning of Antarctic terrestrial and lake ecosystems. It also hopes to predict regional sensitivity to the impacts of climate change.

On 28 October 1999, the Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Robert Hill, announced the declaration of the Macquarie Island Marine Park. Covering more than 16 million hectares, it was declared to protect the habitat of threatened species such as the royal and rockhopper penguins, the subantarctic fur seal, southern elephant seal and five species of albatross.

This page was last updated on 7 June 2002.