This map shows the current coastal and marine areas of conservation importance in Northern Ireland’s territorial waters.
Many of the current Marine Protected Areas are designated to protect species and habitats of European importance.
It includes a candidate protected area for maerl beds in Red Bay (yellow box). Similar to coral, maerl is slow growing and forms underwater structures which are home to a huge variety of wildlife. Parts of the structure in Red Bay could be up to 5000 years old.
It also includes proposals for two new sites at the Skerries and Causeway (top, left star) and at the Maidens (bottom right star). If proposals go ahead, the Skerries and Causeway Proposed Special Area of Conservation (p SAC) will be Northern Ireland’s first marine protected area for harbour porpoise. Related to dolphins, at about 1.5m to 2m in size these are the smallest cetaceans found in European waters. Prefering the shallows to the deeper water, they can often be seen in bays and harbours.
Whilst Northern Ireland already has a number of Marine Protected Areas, there are restrictions on what they can protect.
Further national protection will be delivered through a Northern Ireland Marine Bill which is due to be introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly later this year. The Bill will provide the tools to designate a new type of Marine Protected Area called Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). These will be able to provide protection for the full range of habitats and species found in Northern Ireland’s waters.
Northern Ireland will miss the UKs target to have an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas by 2012. It is vital that the Northern Ireland Government recognises the importance of a full network of Marine Protected Areas and commits to taking this work forward as a priority.