Most interesting landmarks of Heard Island and McDonald Islands

Unique species of animals

On these isolated islands are found several endemic species of plants and animals.

Heard Shag (Phalacrocorax atriceps nivalis) is subspecies of Imperial Shag – it is a cormorant with 120 cm wingspan. It breeds only on Heard Island, here are breeding some 1,000 pairs. Often this bird is considered to be a separate species.

Another unique bird is subspecies of Black-faced Sheathbill – Heard Island Sheathbill (Chionis minor nasicornis). This flightless, white bird lives only on Heard Island.

Here have been found also several endemic arthropods (weevil beetle, springtail, mite), one tardigrade as well as sea animals – sea cucumbers, brittle stars and starfish. Land insects of Heard Island show surprising adaptations to harsh life conditions.


  • Mawson Peak of Big Ben – Heard Island. An active volcano, last eruption took place in 2008, but there have been many more eruptions over the last decades, mostly fixed only by satellites from space. The tallest part – Mawson Peak – is the highest mountain in the territory of Australia (2,745 m). Mountain is covered with ice. 14 glaciers flow from Big Ben to all directions. Satellite data shows that there might be located lava lake with a diameter of 100 – 150 m.
  • Cape Lockyer Macaroni Penguin Colony – south-eastern Heard Island. One of the largest colonies of macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) worldwide. Here they live on a steep slope.
  • Doppler Hill King Penguin colony – south-eastern Heard Island. A colony with more than 25,000 breeding pairs of king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus). This colony is not the largest in the world but nevertheless it is certainly impressive.
  • Lava tunnels of Laurens Peninsula – north-western Heard Island. An extensive network of lava caves.
  • McDonald Islands – active volcano, at least 230 m high. The interesting feature of this volcano is that over the last decades it has turned two of the McDonald Islands into a single island. Through the eruptions the area and height of the main island increased, connecting it with Flat Island.
  • Stephenson Lagoon – south-eastern Heard Island. Large glacial lagoon made unusual by hundreds of floating and stranded icebergs from Stephenson Glacier.
  • The Sentinels of Red Island (Cape Pillar) – very northern tip of Heard Island. Spectacular, vertical granite cliffs – pillars standing on peninsula.

Described landmarks of Heard Island and McDonald Islands

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Heard Island and McDonald Islands are some of the most remote islands in the world. Very few people have visited them but these islands represent truly remarkable sight.
Islands were included in UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997 and represent a unique site where can be observed unusually fast geomorphological processes and unique, undisturbed ecosystem.
Highlights of these islands are:

  • Volcanic processes – these are the only sub-Antarctic islands with active (very active!) volcanoes. Not only the volcanoes themselves are impressive – as a result of their action, the islands form very impressive mountains rising tall from the ocean. Heard Island is 368 km² large – twenty thousand times smaller than Australia – but it has got taller mountain than Australia.
  • Pristine ecosystems – islands are located in comparatively cold climatic zone, climate here is very harsh but nevertheless unique ecosystem has developed here. This is one of the very few ecosystems in the world without human-introduced species and without any notable human impact.

Video of Heard Island volcano eruption

IMAS – Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, January 2016

Featured: McDonald Islands

Unusual changes transformed McDonald Islands in the time period from 2000 to 2001. Volcanic eruptions and (possibly) rise of the land increased the area of main McDonald Island from 1.13 km² to 2.45 km², rising the height of tallest mountain from 186 to 230 m.

Recommended books

Heard Island: Southern Ocean Sentinel

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