Heard and McDonald Islands

Flag of Australia

Volcano “Big Ben” on McDonald Island

PRAYING FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD ONE COUNTRY AT A TIME – This week we are praying for Heard and McDonald Islands, which are Australian Territory, and were added to the World Heritage List in 1997. (UNESCO keeps the list and includes both cultural and natural places around the globe, including the Grand Canyon National Park.) These islands are not inhabited, and according to the brochure published by the Australian government, these islands represent “outstanding natural universal values” and are considered “the wildest place on earth”. It has an intact ecosystem, and these islands are “the only sub-Antarctic island group believed to contain no known species directly introduced by humans.” This is ideal for studying the interaction of ecosystems – land, freshwater, coastal and marine – and to understand the evolution of plants, animals and invertebrates in a natural state. The Australian brochure further describes their scientific significance as follows:

  • “As outstanding examples representing major stages of the earth’s history, including the record of life, significant ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features
  • As outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes.”

They are located near the place where the stormy waters of the Antarctic Ocean and the warmer Indian Ocean waters meet, about 2500 miles south-west of Australia and a thousand miles north of Antarctica. (Link to geographic location map.) They were unknown until the 19th century. The fact that the islands were formed by the plume type of volcanism, a poorly understood relative to the two other types of volcanic types – subduction and seafloor spreading. This gives scientists an “extraordinary view into the earth’s deep interior and its interactions with the lithospheric plates that resulted in the formation of the ocean basins and continents.” These are the only sub-Antarctic islands that are volcanically active. The last recorded major eruption of “Big Ben”, the highest point in Australia and a live volcano on Heard Island, was in 1992. Heard Island is the larger island in the group, and when weather patterns hit “Big Ben, they change. Satellite photos of McDonald Island since 2004 indicate that the island has more than doubled since 2004, and that an isthmus is building to connect McDonald Island and Flat Island because of volcanic activity.

The islands are mountainous with high peaks, and 70% of the surface is covered by ice and snow. Glaciers turn over in about 100 years so there is quick response to climate change. Examples of life on the islands are beetles, macaroni penguins, Antarctic fur seals, leopard seals, and flying birds. The population of King Penguins has recovered over the last 50 years, and the Antarctic fur seals have recolonized. Monitoring the seal and penguin populations’ health allows scientists to “monitor the health and stability of the larger Southern Ocean ecosystem.”

King Penguin rookery near Macy Cove

Macaroni Penguin Rookery









Source: http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/places/world/heard-mcdonald