Durkan announces four new Marine Conservation Zones for consultation

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Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has announced four new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) for consultation - Rathlin, Waterfoot, Outer Belfast Lough and Carlingford Lough.

In calling on the public to voice their views on protecting our marine environment, Mark H Durkan said: “Marine Conservation Zones conserve the diversity of rare and threatened habitats and species in our waters. Designating Marine Conservation Zones will be an important step towards protecting and enhancing the biodiversity of our seas, helping protect important marine habitats and species.

“As well as protecting nationally important marine wildlife, the Zones will also protect geological features in these waters. We all have a stake in preserving and protecting our marine environment for future generations so I urge people to let us know their views on these proposed sites and species.”

The habitats and species proposed to be protected at each site include:

· Rathlin – Deep-sea bed, Black guillemot and Geological/geomorphological features (Submerged lagoons and Sea arches).

· Waterfoot – Subtidal (sublittoral) sand with subtidal seagrass beds (Zostera marina).

· Outer Belfast Lough – Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) and associated habitat Subtidal (sublittoral) sand.

· Carlingford Lough – Subtidal (sublittoral) mud containing sea-pen and white sea slug.

Rebecca Hunter, Northern Ireland Marine Task Force Officer, said: “Northern Ireland is home to some of Europe’s most unique and vital marine wildlife; we believe that Marine Conservation Zones provide a real opportunity for the recovery of our valuable seas.

“In January and February we will be visiting communities across Northern Ireland to engage with schools, community groups, businesses and political audiences on the proposed MCZ’s and how we believe they will help protect the natural resources of our seas for a richer future for all.

“We hope MCZs will have the support not just of nature and wildlife lovers from across Northern Ireland but from every citizen who values all that our seas provide; we would encourage all interested parties to support our campaign and respond to the Department’s consultation.”

The Minister concluded: “I would like to thank the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force for supporting the proposals. This is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and appreciation for our important marine environment.”

The consultation will be open until 11 March 2016 and can be accessed at: https://www.doeni.gov.uk/consultations/marine-conservation-zones-consultation