The islands form a discrete entity of sufficient size to fulfil the conditions of integrity, plus are of very high wilderness quality and are the least disturbed of all sub-Antarctic islands. They are subject to low anthropogenic pressures except for the largely unknown impact of commercial fisheries on the marine ecosystem. However, commercial fishing is not permitted within the property, or in the Marine Reserve within which it is located. Heard Island’s remoteness and harsh climate have ensured that human occupation, notably 19th century sealing, and research activity from 1947 to 1955, has been very restricted. The McDonald Islands have only had two brief visits, and there has been no protracted stay ashore on Heard Island since a winter research programme in 1992, the first winter occupation of the island since 1954.
Protection and management requirements
The area is managed as a strict nature reserve (IUCN Category 1a) by the Australian Antarctic Division through the Australian Government’s Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan that covers marine reserves in the same region as well as the World Heritage Area.
The main management requirements are the maintenance of strict visitation and quarantine controls to maintain natural conditions and ecological integrity, and to prevent the introduction of pathogens and non-native species. Human activity in the reserve is expected to continue to slowly increase in line with interest in the region for science, tourism and fisheries. The management goal must be to prevent the introduction of alien species by minimising the risk of introductions occurring. Fisheries in the region require careful management to minimise the potential of adverse impacts on the marine-dependent fauna of the islands.
All World Heritage properties in Australia are ‘matters of national environmental significance’ protected and managed under national legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. 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. In 2007 the Heard and McDonald Islands World Heritage Area was added to the National Heritage List in recognition of its national heritage significance.
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