Corals, Birds And Turtles

Posted On November 18, 2009 

Primary Info

Heron Island is a small pristine coal cay located in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland in Australia. The island is 539 kilometres north to the capital of Queensland, Brisbane. The island was discovered in 1843 by a ship called HMS Fly while it was exploring the eastern place of the Great Barrier Reef. The place came to be inhabited only in the early 20th century when a turtle cannery was set up there. The initial efforts to build up turtle cannery or fisheries in the Heron Island did not pay off until in the 1930s when Captain Christian Poulsen, realising the tourism potential of the island, took it on lease. In 1943 the Heron Island was declared a National Park. Today Heron Island is one of the top tourist attractions for it is an area that features wildlifes of all kinds and in every season. A small wooden jetty lies in the western side of the shore.

Heron Island

Geographical features

The Heron Island, which is located off the eastern coasts of Queensland is about 800 metres long and 300 metres wide with a total area of 40 acres. The highest point of the island is near its west which is 3.6 metres. The island is situated on the leeward side of Heron Reef which is a place of rich biodiversity including 900 species of fish and 72% of the coral species found in the Great Barrier Reef region. The Wedged-tail Shearwaters birds help in the formation of rich soil in the island by digging their nests in the ground. The southern shore of the island is marked by a dune ridge that rises upto 3 metres.


The Heron Island has a rich flora. Pisonia Grandis is the most notable tree found in this island. They cover the southern and central part of the island. Wild Poinsettia, a noxious weed is also found in this island. Screwpines are also commonly found.  Trees in the island generally grow 6-8 metres with few exceptions touching 10-11 metres. To its eastern tip, tress like Pandamus, Celtis, Ficus and Octopus Bush are the predominant ones. Herbs like parasitic vine are also found in these parts. In the northwestern part of the Heron Island, Manjack tree forests are mainly found. In the western end, plants like Euphorbia, papaya, Temple Tree are widely noted. These trees are mainly ornamental and have been introduced for research and resort activities.


Heron Island offers a splendid sight of a rich fauna as well. It falls on the migration route of the Humpback Whale (during summer when they head for subantarctic waters) as well as many migratory birds. Turtles are another major attraction in the Heron Island. Nests built by birds and turtles or the sight where whales bring their juniors to feed on the coral planktons in the island’s surrounding reefs or shoals of bright and colourful fish swimming underwater or living corals in unique formations are treats to the eyes here. Polynesian rats and a small breed of snail that moves in clusters are also found here.

BirdsBuff-banded Rail

As the name itself suggests, Heron Island is known for the birds. The island provides shelter to seabirds like Black Noddy besides the Wedge-tailed Shearwater. There are also birds which are perennial residents of the island, inhabiting and breeding here. Among these birds are:Silver Gull (or seagull in Australia), Sacred Kingfisher, Bar-Shouldered Dove, Eastern Reef Egret (also called Pacific Reef Heron or Eastern Reef Heron), Sivereye, Buff-banded Rail among others. Also found are White-bellied Sea-

Eastern Reef Egret

The Heron Island is believed to have been named after these birds. These are found in a vast stretch of the Asian continent stretching from India, South-East Asia, Japan, Polynesia to Australia and New Zealand. These feature short, yellow legs, brown beaks and gold-coloured eyes. They feed upon fish, crustaceans and mollucs. However, the only Heron in its true term that is found in the Heron Island is the robust-looking White-necked Heron.

Sea Turtles
heron island resort

Sea Turtles are another major attraction of the Heron Islands. It is famous for the Green Sea Turtles and the Loggerhead Sea Turtles. The Hawksbill Sea Turtle can also be related to the island.

Heron Island Resort

It is located in the north-western side of the island and is operated by Voyages, a tour and resort operating company in Australia. Here, tourists can enjoy the pleasure of white sandy beaches, scuba diving and snorkelling. The resort can accomodate upto 200 guests.

Heron Island Research Station and Heron Island National Park

The former is located in the south-western part of the island. It is one of the world’s premier institute on coral reef ecology research. It also features students’ accommodation facilities.

The national park that has been set up in the Heron Island is a part of the Capricornia Cays National Park. It is a heron island research stationnational park in Queensland which protects seven vegetated coral cays (besides the Heron Island) in the islands of the southern Great Barrier Reef. The Heron Island National park has a permanent ranger’s station as well.

Fun and frolic at the Heron Island:

There are loads of other activities that one can indulge in while making a trip to the Heron Islands. Some of them are:

  • Guided reef walks
  • Island ecology walks
  • Guided birdlife walks
  • Stargazing
  • Wildlife presentations
  • Nightly movie and marine documentary
  • Natural history slide show
  • Movies under the stars (subject to weather)
  • Scenic helicopter flights
  • Beach picnic
  • Turtle tour
  • Diving tours including night diving
Nature’s calendar in Heron Island

here goes a chronology of biological events that unfold in the Heron Island as the year advances.


January is the peak breeding season for sea birds, particularly Black Noddies, Mutton Birds and Reef Herons.  Female Turtles laying eggs on the beach.


This is the time when the Wedge tailed Shearwater birds breed. Female Turtles continue to lay eggs.


Migratory birds like Ruddy Turn-stone and Eastern Golden Plover depart the island around this time. Turtles’ nesting season approaches its end.


Black Noddies migrate from the Island  Young Wedge-tail Shearwater birds come out of their nests while the adult Shearwatetrs leave the island.


Turtle hatching concludes. Young Wedge-tailed Shearwaters learn to fly.


Northbound migration of Humpback Whales begins.


Frequent sighting of Humpback Whales. Around this time the Reef Herons also start setting up their nests.


Black Noddies start to return. Humpback Whales continue to shoe up.


Humpback Whales move actively. Black Noddies continue to return. Turtle mating starts gradually. Northern Hemisphere’s migratory birds flow back.


Whales and their calves head south towards the Antarctic  Resident Silver Eyes and Black Noddies start to nest.  Wedge-tailed Shearwaters return.


Turtles begin to lay eggs.  Wedge-tailed Shearwaters begin to nest.  Black Noddies lay eggs.


Bird life extremely active. Turtles lay eggs. Coral spawning can be seen.


Accommodation on Heron Island is limited. Hence, it is best to plan which wildlife you would experience and arrange the travel itinerary accordingly.

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