The designation of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) safeguards vulnerable or unique marine species and habitats of national importance in the Northern Ireland inshore region based on an ecosystem approach. These MCZs fulfill the obligations on The Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 (the "Act") to contribute to an ecologically coherent UK network of MPAs as well as wider biodiversity commitments at European and global level.

What is a MCZ?

A MCZ is a new 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 geological (including geomorphological) features.

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

  • 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. From the PMF lists we have identified the features which are being put forward with the selection of MCZs; these 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

What is the process for selecting and designating a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ)?

  1. Collation of robust scientific information on habitats, species and geological/geomorphological features (including locations and distributions) to identify potential Areas of Search (AoS) and potential boundaries.
  2. Working closely with stakeholders, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry representatives and other sea users as well as other government departments, to gather and assess information on how the sea is used. This will be through a series of stakeholder workshops and bilateral meetings.
  3. Production of Socio-Economic Impact Assessments for each proposed MCZ (pMCZ) to determine the estimated social, economic and environmental costs and benefits of designation.
  4. Development of management options, where necessary, based on conservation objectives for the proposed features.
  5. Public consultation on all pMCZs.

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

MCZ evidence

The OSPAR network design principles are used for the selection of MCZs in the Northern Ireland inshore region. Following these selection principles, the designation of MCZs is based on the best available scientific evidence meeting the data standards. The provision of verifiable evidence and ecological and socio-economic information, is the responsibility of all those involved in the MCZ selection and designation process. This includes national or local sources such as conservation organisations, recreational bodies, industry, academic research or individuals.

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), as the Government’s advisers on the natural environment, have produced a paper on the anticipated type and level of evidence required for the selection, designation and management of MCZs:

Further information on the OSPAR network design principles for MPAs can be found here:

MCZ Process update

DAERA identified AoS selecting the best locations for the PMFs outside of the current MPA network. Based on the best available evidence and the identification of pMCZ features DAERA proposed four MCZs. Following public consultation these four pMCZs have now been formally designated as MCZs. Together with Strangford Lough MCZ there are now five MCZs in the Northern Ireland inshore region.

Strangford Lough was Northern Ireland's only Marine Nature Reserve but it was redesignated as Northern Ireland's first MCZ on the introduction of the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013.

MCZ Areas of Search

The Department's intention is to establish an ecologically coherent network of MPAs by December 2016. Work currently in progress by JNCC will help identify any gaps in the network at a UK level; the Department will use these findings to target key areas for future consideration. We are still engaged in evidence gathering to identify a site important for the conservation of Common Skate. The Outer Ards AoS is linked to the Strangford Lough biogenic reef restoration plan. At present these areas remain as AoS:

  • Outer Ards (Biogenic reef)
  • The Maidens (East Antrim coast, Common skate)

MCZ consultation

On 14 December 2015 the Department published a consultation seeking views on Proposals for Marine Conservation Zones in the Northern Ireland Inshore Region. The full text of the proposals is available on the Department’s website at:

For detailed information on the consultation responses refer to the following publication:

Designated MCZs

The MCZs listed above were classified on the 12th December 2016.

For detailed information on the designation documents refer to the following publications:

Useful links

Further information

For further information on Northern Ireland inshore region MCZs, contact:

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