Macquarie Island was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997.
Macquarie Island was one of 15 World Heritage places included in the National Heritage List on 21 May 2007.
Macquarie Island is the only island in the world composed entirely of oceanic crust and rocks from the mantle, deep below the earth's surface.
Macquarie Island provides evidence of the rock types found at great depths in the earth's crust and of plate tectonics and continental drift, the geological processes that have dominated the earth's surface for many millions of years. It is an island of unique natural diversity, a site of major geoconservation significance and one of the truly remarkable places on earth.
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Macquarie Island is situated about 1,500 km south-south-east of Tasmania, half way between Tasmania and Antarctica at around 55 degrees south. The main island is approximately 34 kilometres long and 5.5 kilometres wide at its broadest point.
Description of place
Macquarie Island provides evidence of the rock types found at great depths in the earth's crust and of plate tectonics and continental drift; the geological processes that have dominated the earth's surface for many millions of years. It is the only island in the world composed entirely of oceanic crust and rocks from the mantle, deep below the earth's surface. Macquarie Island probably began as a spreading ridge under the sea with the formation of new oceanic crust somewhere between 11 and 30 million years ago.
At some stage the spreading halted and the crust began to compress, squeezing rocks from deep within the mantle upward like toothpaste from a tube. As the ridge grew it eventually became exposed above the ocean's surface about 600,000 years ago. Thus, rocks normally only occurring deep within the earth's mantle have become exposed on the earth's surface.
Since Macquarie Island emerged, it has mainly been carved by marine processes such as wave action, unlike other subantarctic islands, which have been shaped by glaciers. The geodiversity of Macquarie Island provides the foundation for the landforms, soils, plants and animals occurring there. It is an island of unique natural diversity, a site of major geoconservation significance and one of the truly remarkable places on earth. Around the shoreline there is a coastal terrace formed from a wave-cut platform now raised above sea level. Vast waterlogged areas on the coastal platform are heavily vegetated, forming a mire based on deep peat beds and known locally as "featherbed" from the sensation gained when walking over them. Old sea stacks testify to the continual uplifting of the island as they protrude through the peat beds, some of them now being several hundred metres from the existing coastline. Behind the coastal terrace, steep escarpments rise more than 200 metres to the undulating central plateau which has three peaks over 400 metres; the highest being Mt Hamilton at 433 metres.
The slopes from the plateau to the sea are most spectacular at the southern end of the island and along the west coast where the relentless pounding of the Southern Ocean has cut a myriad of rugged bays and coves, fringed with sea stacks and reefs. The plateau surface is dotted with innumerable lakes, tarns and pools, mainly of structural origin. Fluctuations in sea level and marine erosion have cut away the original escarpments leaving some lakes perched on the edge of the plateau, while others have been partially or totally drained.
The continual westerly winds, which increase in force as they rise over the barrier of the island, and changes in the topography on the plateau, result in dramatic changes in the vegetation cover. Among the most aesthetically appealing sights of the island are the vast congregations of wildlife, particularly penguins during breeding seasons. The breeding population of royal penguins on Macquarie Island is estimated at over 850,000 pairs - one of the greatest concentrations of sea birds in the world.
Four species of albatross nest on steep and rugged cliffs, both on the main island and on nearby Bishop and Clerk Islands. These are majestic birds, easily viewed when nesting.
Elephant seals also form impressive colonies on suitable beaches during the breeding season. These animals can grow to over 4.5 metres in length and to a weight of 3.5 tonnes. Conflicts between the larger bulls are among the more memorable sights that may be witnessed on the island.
Macquarie Island and the Bishop and Clerk Islets, about 37 kilometres to the south, and Judge and Clerk Islets about 11 kilometres to the north, form a Nature Reserve with protection extending out to three nautical miles from the coast. Some of the marine values beyond state waters are also protected by the Macquarie Island Marine Park declared by the Australian Government on 28 October 1999. The primary purpose of the marine park is to protect the conservation values of the region from human disturbance. The marine park contains one of the world's largest highly protected marine zones, covering more than 160,000 km².
There are no permanent human inhabitants on Macquarie Island although the Australian Antarctic Division station is occupied year round. The only access to the island is by sea.
Management of Macquarie Island
Day-to-day management of the area is the responsibility of the Tasmanian Government (Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service).
Macquarie Island lies almost 1,500 kilometres to the southeast of Tasmania, about half-way between Australia and Antarctica. The property includes Macquarie Island, Judge and Clerk Islets 11 kilometres to the north, the Bishop and Clerk Islets 37 kilometres to the south, rocks, reefs and the surrounding waters to a distance of 12 nautical miles. The main island is approximately 34 kilometres long and 5.5 kilometres wide at its broadest point, covering an area of approximately 12,785 hectares. The property covers an area of 557,280 hectares.
Macquarie Island has outstanding universal value for two reasons. First, it provides a unique opportunity to study, in detail, geological features and processes of oceanic crust formation and plate boundary dynamics, as it is only place on earth where rocks from the earth’s mantle (6 kilometres below the ocean floor) are being actively exposed above sea level. These unique exposures include excellent examples of pillow basalts and other extrusive rocks. Second, its remote and windswept landscape of steep escarpments, lakes, and dramatic changes in vegetation provides an outstanding spectacle of wild, natural beauty complemented by vast congregations of wildlife including penguins and seals.
Criterion (vii) to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance
Macquarie Island provides an outstanding spectacle of wild, natural beauty with huge congregations of penguins and seals populating what has been described as a small speck thrust up into the vast Southern Ocean. The island lies in latitudes known as the ‘Furious Fifties’ because of the frequency of very strong winds and stormy seas, which have sculpted the island. A coastal terrace supports vast waterlogged and heavily vegetated areas, forming a mire based on deep peat beds known as ‘featherbed’. This is framed by steep escarpments which rise spectacularly to a plateau surface dotted with innumerable lakes, tarns and pools. The continual westerly winds, which increase in force as they rise over the barrier of the island, and changes in topography result in dramatic changes in the vegetation cover which can vary from lush grassland to sparse feldmark within the space of a few metres.
Among the most aesthetically appealing features of the island are the vast congregations of wildlife, particularly penguins, during the breeding season. The breeding population of Royal Penguins (Eudyptes schlegeli), a species endemic to Macquarie Island and nearby Bishop and Clerk Islets, is estimated at over 850,000 pairs, one of the greatest congregations of seabirds in the world. The breeding population of King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), estimated at around 150,000–170,000 breeding pairs in 2000, is still expanding. As the King Penguin chicks do not leave the vicinity of the nest for a year, they survive the rigours of winter by huddling together on the windy and snow-swept beaches. Four species of albatross nest on steep and rugged cliffs and are easily viewed when nesting. Elephant Seals (Mirounga leonina) also form impressive colonies during the breeding season.
Criterion (viii) to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features
Macquarie Island and its outlying islets are geologically unique in being the only place on earth where rocks from the earth’s mantle are being actively exposed above sea level. The island is the exposed crest of the undersea Macquarie Ridge, raised to its present position where the Indo-Australian tectonic plate meets the Pacific plate. These unique exposures provide an exceptionally complete section of the structure and composition of both the oceanic crust and the upper mantle, and provide evidence of ‘sea-floor spreading’ and tectonic processes that have operated for hundreds of millions of years. The geological evolution of Macquarie Island began 10 million years ago and continues today with the island experiencing earthquakes and a rapid rate of uplift, all of which are related to active geological processes along the boundary between the two plates.
Sequences from all crustal levels, down to 6 kilometres below the ocean floor, are exposed as a result of tilting and differential uplift on Macquarie Island. This provides rare evidence for sequences that are common from the bottom of the oceans to the upper mantle, but not seen elsewhere in surface outcrops. The lack of deformation of this exposed crust is highly significant as it exhibits key interrelated and interdependent oceanic crustal elements in their natural relationship.
Macquarie Island is the only ophiolite (a well-developed and studied geological complex) recognised to have been formed within a major ocean basin. The geology of the island is therefore considered to be the connecting link between the ophiolites of continental environments and those located within the oceanic crust.
Statement of integrity
The property is of sufficient size and contains the necessary elements to demonstrate the key aspects of the geological processes of Macquarie Island and the outlying Bishop and Clerk and Judge and Clerk islets. All major elements of the Macquarie deformational zone are included in the property.
Human impacts, commencing on Macquarie Island in 1810, have resulted in major changes to the biota of the reserve. The commercial exploitation of seals and penguins, together with the introduction of alien species, resulted in the extinction of some native species and major declines in others. Resultant modifications to vegetation associations and nutrient cycles severely impacted on some species while benefiting others.
Active management programmes, commenced in the 1960s, are aimed at stopping and/or reversing some of these trends. Some of these programmes have resulted in very rapid changes, including the eradication of feral cats and wekas from the island. However, the recovery of natural ecosystem processes as a result of these management programmes may take centuries. Macquarie Island is remote and well protected and managed.
Requirements for protection and management
The property is vulnerable to the consequences of anthropogenic climate change. The other threat to the integrity of the property, which is monitored and managed, is the spread of introduced species and pathogens. A project to eradicate the remaining mammalian pest species (rabbits, black rats and mice) is underway, and is expected to be completed in 2016.
Macquarie Island, the adjacent islets of Judge and Clerk and Bishop and Clerk, and all surrounding waters out to three nautical miles, is managed as a nature reserve by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS). Management of the reserve is guided by the Macquarie Island Nature Reserve and World Heritage Area Management Plan 2006. Most of the waters out to 200 nautical miles to the east of the reserve are within the Macquarie Island Commonwealth Marine Reserve, which is managed by the Australian Government in cooperation with the PWS.
Overarching management of the World Heritage values occurs under national legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Act). All World Heritage properties in Australia are ‘matters of national environmental significance’ protected and managed under the Act. This Act is the statutory instrument for implementing Australia’s obligations under a number of multilateral environmental agreements, including the World Heritage Convention. By law, any action that has, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on the World Heritage values of a World Heritage property must be referred to the responsible Minister for consideration. Substantial penalties apply for taking such an action without approval. Once a heritage place is listed, the Act provides for the preparation of management plans which set out the significant heritage aspects of the place and how the values of the site will be managed.
Importantly, this Act also aims to protect matters of national environmental significance, such as World Heritage properties, from impacts even if they originate outside the property or if the values of the property are mobile (as in fauna). It thus forms an additional layer of protection designed to protect values of World Heritage properties from external impacts.
History of inscription
Macquarie Island was first nominated for inclusion on the World Heritage List in 1992 for geological values, but the nomination was declined by the World Heritage Committee at its 16th session in December 1992. At that time, the World Heritage Committee endorsed the recommendation of IUCN that the Australian authorities consider Macquarie Island in the wider sense of an oceanic island ecosystem representative of the subantarctic biogeographic realm.
Macquarie Island was subsequently inscribed on the World Heritage List by the World Heritage Committee at its 21st session in December 1997.
The Statement of Outstanding Universal Value was adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session in June-July 2012.
Official listing information
Visit the UNESCO web site for official listing information Macquarie Island:
- Fact sheet - Macquarie Island: from rabbits and rodents to recovery and renewal (PDF - 5.41 MB)
- Macquarie Island is declared officially pest-free - media release, 7 April 2014
Management Plan for Macquarie Island
1996 Nomination document
Macquarie Island was first nominated for inclusion on the World Heritage List in 1992 for geological values, but the nomination was declined by the World Heritage Committee.
Macquarie Island was subsequently nominated in 1996, and was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997.Nomination of Macquarie Island by the Government of Australia for inscription on the World Heritage List (PDF - 364.88 KB)
Nomination of Macquarie Island by the Government of Australia for inscription on the World Heritage List (DOC - 257.5 KB)
Macquarie Island Executive Officer
Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service
PO Box 126
MOONAH TAS 7009
Tel: (03) 6165 4051