Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are designated to safeguard vulnerable or unique marine species and habitats of national importance in the Northern Ireland inshore region. These MCZs fulfil the obligations of The Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 to contribute to an ecologically coherent UK network of MPAs as well as wider biodiversity commitments at North-East Atlantic and global level.

What is a MCZ?

An MCZ is a type of Marine Protected Area (MPA), designated in the Northern Ireland inshore region to protect nationally important habitats, species and geological/geomorphological features, while fully taking into account any economic, cultural or social consequences of doing so.

The Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 includes provisions for establishing Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)

The Act also allows the Department to make byelaws to protect MCZs from damage caused by unregulated activities such as anchoring, kite surfing, jet skiing etc. It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage a protected feature of an MCZ or to contravene a byelaw.

For detailed information view:

What do MCZs protect?

MCZs protect nationally important marine species, habitats and features of geological or geomorphological interest. Priority Marine Features (PMF) is a collective term for the features which are considered to be of conservation importance in the Northern Ireland inshore region and form the basis of MCZ designation.

The following conservation lists were amalgamated and reviewed to create three lists of Priority Marine Features (PMFs):

  • OSPAR List of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats
  • UK Biodiversity Action Plan List
  • Northern Ireland List of Priority Habitats and Species
  • Northern Ireland Species of Conservation Concern (SOCC)
  • Nationally Important Marine Features (NIMF)

These have been refined for Northern Ireland from existing national and international conservation lists. Features which are being put forward for the selection of MCZs are referred to as proposed MCZ (pMCZ) features. Once the MCZ(s) are formally designated these will be known as MCZ features.

For detailed information on the selection of PMFs and the pMCZ features lists refer to the following report in our publication scheme:

MCZ Designation

The process for selecting and designating an MCZ includes:

  1. Collation of robust scientific information on PMFs to identify Areas of Search (AoS) and potential boundaries.
  2. Working closely with stakeholders to gather information on how the sea is used in the AoS.
  3. Production of socio-economic Impact Assessments for each proposal.
  4. Development of management options.
  5. Public consultation on the pMCZ.

For detailed information on the MCZ process, please refer to the following links:

Strangford Lough became Northern Ireland's first MCZ on the introduction of the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013, which repealed the previous Marine Nature Reserve designation.

List of MCZs:

There are currently five MCZs in the Northern Ireland inshore region:

For detailed information on the first tranche of MCZ designations (2016) refer to the following publications:

MCZ Process update

A network assessment (2018) concluded that the current suite of MPAs in the Northern Ireland inshore region was very close to reaching the objective of delivering an ecologically coherent network. At a biogeographic scale, some gaps remain in the wider UK MPA network. Work is progressing towards filling these gaps, including a second tranche of MCZ designations.

MCZ Areas of Search

The Department is gathering evidence to support MCZ proposals that will complete the MPA network. This includes the protection of biogenic reef, common skate and other PMFs.

The following areas remain an AoS:

  • Outer Ards (linked to the Strangford Lough biogenic reef restoration plan)
  • North Coast (Sabellaria spinulosa reef)
  • North Channel (East Antrim coast, Common skate)

Useful links

Further information

For further information on Northern Ireland MCZs, contact:

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