What is a Marine Protected Area (MPA)?
An Marine Protected Area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.
Why are areas protected?
Our seas are home to diverse habitats and species. MPAs are one of the tools that can help to protect the marine environment, whilst also enabling its sustainable use, ensuring it remains healthy and contributes to our society for generations to come. MPAs will support global efforts towards climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Marine Protected Areas in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland we currently have the following MPAs:
- Marine Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
- Marine Special Protected Areas (SPAs)
- Coastal Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs)
- Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)
- Ramsar sites
You can search for MPAs within Northern Ireland by following the links below:
For further information on Northern Ireland's approach to development and management of the MPA networks view:
How do we manage MPAs?
There are a number of different mechanisms to manage MPAs. Firstly, through statutory obligations under the relevant legislation, the competent authority is required to assess the potential effects of plans/projects or activities on the designated feature(s) and associated conservation objectives. This may be through the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) for European (SAC and SPA) and Ramsar sites or the Marine Conservation Zone assessment for MCZs. For ASSIs, the competent authority must notify the Department. Further information on these assessments can be found at:
- Guidance to MPA Assessments in the Northern Ireland inshore region
Secondly, through monitoring of the designated features on a 6 year rolling cycle, the Department assesses the condition of the MPA and determines whether this meets favourable conservation status or not. On the basis of these condition assessments active management may need to be implemented to restore the feature back to favourable condition. Further information on habitats and species condition monitoring and reporting can be found at:
Thirdly, the development of management measures/plans (or byelaws where required) to meet obligations under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended) and The Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 to maintain or improve the ecological health of SACs/SPAs and MCZs respectively. Management plans will be developed and implemented in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
The inshore fisheries partnership group in Northern Ireland is used to provide an opportunity for fishers to contribute to the development of proposed fisheries management measures for MPAs:
- Consultation on the development of fisheries management measures for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and establishment of Scallop enhancement sites in the Northern Ireland inshore region
The Department will support the development of a science programme to assess the effectiveness of the proposed management measures and support adaptive management.
Progress towards establishing an ecologically coherent network
The current MPA network is made up of 48 MPAs covering 38% of the inshore region. An assessment undertaken by JNCC concluded that the MPA network is very close to reaching the objective of being ecologically coherent. A number of small gaps were identified in the network assessment and the Department is gathering evidence that will inform future designations.
OSPAR is the mechanism by which 15 governments and the European Union work together to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. OSPAR incorporates a wide range of marine issues from work on pollution and dumping at sea to the conservation of marine biodiversity.
OSPAR Contracting Parties have agreed to establish an ecologically coherent network of MPAs in the North-East Atlantic.
Northern Ireland's Marine SACs and MCZs contribute to the OSPAR MPA network.
For further information on OSPAR MPAs view:
- Protected areas
- Searching protected areas
- Assessing progress towards an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas in the Northern Ireland inshore region
- Report on the creation of a Network of Conservation Sites in the Northern Ireland Inshore Region: Progress toward establishing an ecologically coherent network of well managed Marine Protected Areas
- Sublittoral Survey Northern Ireland (SSNI) 2006-2012
- Northern Ireland Littoral Survey (NILS) 1984-1988
- JNCC MPAs homepage
- JNCC interactive map
For further information on Northern Ireland MPAs, contact: