Following a public consultation between December 2015 and March 2016, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Marine and Fisheries Division in Northern Ireland has designated four new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

Protecting marine species and habitats

The new MCZs are intended to protect clams in Belfast Lough, the habitat of rare black guillemots on Rathlin Island, one of Ireland's largest seagrass meadows located off the coast of Waterfoot in Co Antrim, and a community of sea pens - a type of soft coral - in Carlingford Lough.

The Department considered comments from stakeholders and undertook further survey work following the consultation, and the boundaries of Waterfoot and Outer Belfast Lough MCZs have since been amended.

The MCZs are listed below together with the features of interest. You can download the details of each MCZ at the provided links:

Together with Strangford Lough, there are now five MCZs in the Northern Ireland inshore region.  Strangford Lough was Northern Ireland's only Marine Nature Reserve but it was re-designated as Northern Ireland's first MCZ on the introduction of the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013.

Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Michelle McIlveen said: "Designation of these four sites is an important step towards protecting and enhancing the biodiversity of our seas, and helping protect important marine habitats and species.

"Achieving this objective is challenging but I am committed to continuing to work with the fishing industry and all marine stakeholders to develop appropriate management measures that will support and promote sustainable activities including fishing.

"These proposals have been developed using sound scientific evidence and with the involvement of stakeholders from all marine sectors including fishing, ports and harbours, renewable energy, angling and environmental groups."

Why are MCZs of interest to boaters?

MCZs differ from other types of marine protected areas because when designating them, the interests of the users of the sea area may be taken into consideration as well as the nature conservation interests i.e. they will look at what else goes on in the particular sea area and consider what designation may mean for those activities.

In its response to the consultation, the RYA raised concerns about the impact of potential management restrictions within the new MCZs on activities associated recreational boating (in particular, anchoring and mooring and vessel speed). 

In response, the Department has said it will work closely with stakeholders to develop appropriate management measures for each MCZ post designation.  Anchoring in emergency situations will not be restricted.

The RYA closely monitors MCZ developments and provides regular updates on the progress of MCZs/MPAs through the Current Affairs hub on the website, its range of e-newsletters and the quarterly RYA Magazine. For further information, see the RYA website

For more detailed information on the MCZ process in Northern Ireland, please refer to the DAERA website:

Picture by Paul Kay: one of the 220-year old clams now protected in the Belfast Lough MCZ.