Macquarie Island (34 km long x 5 km wide) is an oceanic island in the Southern Ocean, lying 1,500 km south-east of Tasmania and approximately halfway between Australia and the Antarctic continent. 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. It is a site of major geoconservation significance, being the only place on earth where rocks from the earth’s mantle (6 km below the ocean floor) are being actively exposed above sea-level. These unique exposures include excellent examples of pillow basalts and other extrusive rocks.
- The island was named after an early governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie.
- In 1822 Captain Douglass, of the ship Mariner called it “the most wretched place of involuntary and slavish exilium that can possibly be conceived; nothing could warrant any civilised creature living on such a spot”.
- Despite the harsh treatment meted out to convicts during Australia’s colonial era, administrators baulked at sending them to Macquarie Island.
- The island was highly popular for the large number of fur seals back in early 19th century. Their population around 1810 was between 200,000 to 400,000. But once the word got out of their abundant population the commercial interest was enormous. During the first 18 months of commercial operations at least 120,000 fur seals were killed for their skins and ten years later the population was almost wiped out.
The site provides an unique example of exposure of the ocean crust above the sea level and of geological evidence for sea-floor spreading, and is an exposure of the oceanic plate boundary between the Pacific and Australian/Indian plates, exposed with active faults and ongoing tectonic movements.
Year of Inscription: 1997
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