The new areas have been designated to strengthen and protect vulnerable marine wildlife and habitats, including black guillemots on Rathlin Island, one of Ireland’s largest seagrass meadows in Waterfoot, 220-year-old clams in Belfast Lough and a fragile community of sea pens (a type of soft coral) in Carlingford Lough.
This now brings Northern Ireland up to five Marine Conservation Zones including Strangford Lough, which was the first area to be designated in 2013.
Speaking today, Rebecca Hunter NI Marine Task Force Officer said: “We are delighted to see the value of our seas recognised and protected within these areas. Northern Ireland is home to some of Europe’s most important marine wildlife and habitats. Marine Conservation Zones provide a real opportunity for the recovery of our seas and with effective management, previously damaged habitats and wildlife can recover. But, we need more of them to fill the gaps - this is only the start of the process.
“The health of our seas is declining and we need to complete a strong network of protected areas to safeguard our outstanding marine environment – its wildlife and habitats, as well as the multiple industries and activities it supports. We look forward to working with the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to progress a second round of MCZs to protect Northern Ireland’s most vulnerable marine biodiversity.”
Earlier this year, environmental experts from NI Marine Task Force launched a campaign to raise awareness about the four proposed MCZs and the benefits of protecting our seas. The campaign received over 1450 letters of support for the designation and effective management of the proposed sites. These letters were submitted to DAERA during the MCZ public consultation in March 2016.
For more information about the NI Marine Task Force visit www.nimtf.org or join the conversation on Twitter @NIMTF #SeaChangeNI.