Heron Island Research Station was the first marine research station established on the Great Barrier Reef. Named in 1843, the island remained unoccupied until the 1920s when a short-lived turtle soup cannery was constructed. Those facilities were taken over by Captain Christian Poulsen in the early 1930s and converted to a resort. Researchers and education groups used the resort facilities during the 1930s and the island was declared a National Park in 1943.

Following a hiatus during WWII, researchers and students returned to the island, including the first undergraduate group from UQ, led by Professor Goddard (wearing a tie and seated at table - Photo Circa 1947). This is something of an historic shot as it also shows Capt. Poulsen (looking through microscope) and may well have been one of the last photographs taken of him before he disappeared in November that year while rowing back to the island late at night after visiting a motor launch.

In 1950, the Great Barrier Reef Committee applied for a 5 acre lease on the island for scientific research purposes. The first building dedicated to the research station was constructed in 1951 and Heron Island Research Station was born. The Committee ran the station from 1951-1970 when the University of Queensland became a partner. UQ acquired full ownership of the station in 1980.

Heron Island Research Station, Delaware North Heron Island Resort and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) have long been and remain the only tenants on the Island.

On the morning of March 30, 2007, HIRS was devastated by fire. The new research building housing 9 research laboratories, library, darkroom, computer room and aquaria facilities was destroyed along with the student accommodation block and teaching laboratory complex.

During the 2 years it took to complete the station reconstruction, researchers and education groups continued to visit the station, undaunted by the semi-permanent tents and construction activity.

The new station facilities were formally opened on the 15th February 2009. Separate research and education facilities and scientific equipment rarely found outside large mainland laboratories allow up to 150 visitors to engage in world class research and education activities.