Sailors are being encouraged to express their views on four Northern Irish sites that have been nominated to become protected Marine Conservation Zones

Four sites in Northern Ireland could become Marine Conservation Zones, following consultations. Rathlin, Waterfoot, Outer Belfast and Carlingford Lough have all been nominated for protection because of the habitats and species they contain.

Northern Ireland environment minister Mark H Durkan announced the areas being considered in this consultation, saying:

‘Marine Conservation Zones conserve the diversity of rare and threatened habitats and species in our waters. Designating Marine Conservation Zones will be an important step towards protecting and enhancing the biodiversity of our seas, helping protect important marine habitats and species.

‘As well as protecting nationally important marine wildlife, the Zones will also protect geological features in these waters. We all have a stake in preserving and protecting our marine environment for future generations so I urge people to let us know their views on these proposed sites and species.’

Strangford Lough was automatically designated as Northern Ireland’s first marine conservation zone under the introduction of the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013. The Department of the Environment Northern Ireland (DOENI) has developed lists of habitats, species and geological or geomorphological features important in Northern Irish seas and the proposed MCZs are based on this list:

  • Rathlin ­ a site supporting deep seabed, black guillemots and submerged lagoons and sea arches, surrounding Rathlin Island, off the north coast of Antrim. Management options being consulted on include imposing a speed restriction zone within the area particularly during spring, limits on current and future anchoring and mooring.  There are also proposals to limit expansion of the existing marina facilities and limits on expansion, relocation or new dredge disposal.
  • Waterfoot ­ a small area of subtidal seagrass beds within Red Bay on the East Coast of Antrim near Glenariff and Cushendall.  Potential management options may include limits on anchoring and mooring within and adjacent to the site. It is proposed that dredging and disposal of dredged material will not be allowed within the pMCZ.
  • Outer Belfast ­ an area of subtidal sand with a population of ocean quahog, a large slow growing bivalve mollusc, close to the southern shore at the mouth of Belfast Lough (north of Groomsport).  Management options include limits on anchoring and mooring, however this is likely to affect large commercial vessels rather than recreational boats.
  • Carlingford Lough ­ an area within the sea-lough supporting subtidal muds with sea-pens and white sea slug communities on the east coast of Ireland at the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  Management options could include limiting new development, expansion or changes to any existing dredge disposal sites, along with limits on current and future anchoring and mooring within the site.

Also on DOENI’s list but not proposed for designation as MCZs this time, are the Maidens, Lough Foyle, Outer Ards and Dundrum Bay remain Areas of Search and will not be designated at this time, although it is noted that the Ardglass Gullies is likely to be added to the existing MCZ designation at Strangford Lough.

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) and the Royal Yachting Association Northern Ireland (RYANI) said in a joint statement that:

‘We support the UK and Devolved Governments’ shared vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas and we believe that, in most cases, this vision can be achieved without any adverse impact on either the public right or the safety of navigation for recreational boating.

‘Nevertheless, the RYA and RYANI will be considering the Northern Irish Government’s proposals in detail to ensure that they are based on objective and robust evidence and that any potential impacts on recreational boating interests are minimised.’

In January and February 2016 the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force Officer will be visiting communities across Northern Ireland to engage with schools, community groups, businesses and political audiences on the proposed pMCZs.

Sailors with an interest in Northern Ireland are encouraged to express their views, and the full consultation document together with instructions on how individuals can submit comments is available online:

The consultation will close on 11 March 2016. You can make a response to this consultation by the following methods:

By e-mail:

By post:
Marine Conservation Zones Consultation
Department of the Environment
Marine Environment Division
Klondyke Building
Cromac Avenue
Belfast, BT7 2JA