Politically, it has formed part of the Australian state of Tasmania since 1900 and became a Tasmanian State Reserve in 1978. In 1997 it became a world heritage site. It was a part of Esperance Municipality until 1993, when the municipality was merged with other municipalities to Huon Valley. Ecologically, it is part of the Antipodes Subantarctic Islands tundra ecoregion.
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) maintains a permanent base, the Macquarie Island Station, on the island. The base's residents, the island's only inhabitants, range in numbers from 20 to 40 people throughout the year.