The Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) – which includes the islands and the surrounding ocean to 12 nautical miles from shore – was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997 for its outstanding universal natural values.

The World Heritage List is a register of properties worldwide that exhibit outstanding universal natural and/or cultural values, and was established under the Convention Concerning the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention).

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is Australia's main instrument for implementing its obligations under the World Heritage Convention. The Managing World Heritage in Australia page provides a framework guide to best practice World Heritage management.

The Management Plan for the HIMI Marine Reserve includes measures to address these management principles and the requirements of the World Heritage Convention.

World heritage nomination and listing

World Heritage sites are important to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory in which they are located. Sites nominated for World Heritage listing are inscribed on the World Heritage List only after careful consideration of whether they represent the best examples of the world's cultural and natural heritage.

The Australian Government first nominated the HIMI Territory for inclusion on the World Heritage list in 1990. The nomination argued that HIMI was suitable for listing due to the islands’ outstanding natural processes, the undisturbed environment and important ecosystems, the range of landform features and their aesthetic qualities.

This nomination was deferred by the World Heritage Bureau, pending the receipt of further information on the Territory’s conservation values, legal status, proposed boundaries and management plan for the site.

A revised nomination, including further information – particularly details of the Heard Island Wilderness Reserve Management Plan (the first management plan for the Territory) – was provided to the World Heritage Committee in 1996.

The statement of significance given in the World Heritage nomination reads:

HIMI is a unique wilderness, a place of spectacular beauty which contains outstanding examples of biological and physical processes continuing in an essentially undisturbed environment. Significant biological processes include colonisation and speciation, while the island group’s physical processes provide valuable indicators of the role of crustal plates in the formation of ocean basins and continents and of atmospheric and oceanic warming.

The nomination addressed 3 of the World Heritage criteria:

  1. outstanding examples of major stages of the earth’s biological or geological history
  2. outstanding examples of significant continuing processes in the evolution of ecosystems and communities of plants and animals
  3. contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty.

This nomination was accepted by the World Heritage Committee, which considered that the Territory’s natural values met criteria 1 and 2. The HIMI Territory was formally added to the World Heritage list on 3 December 1997.

In approving the listing, the World Heritage Committee noted that the site ‘is the only volcanically active subantarctic island and illustrates the ongoing geomorphic processes and glacial dynamics in the coastal and submarine environment and subantarctic flora and fauna, with no record of alien species’.