Rathlin Island MCZ

Status: Designated


Site overview

As the name suggests, Rathlin Island is an island off the coast of County Antrim and is the northernmost point of Northern Ireland. It is home to around 145 people. This area has several types of protection, a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation. There is also a proposed Marine Conservation Zone. All are types of Marine Protected Area and are designed to protect different parts of this special place. It lies adjacent to the high currents of the St Georges Channel - a narrow strait between the island and Scotland, that creates a bottleneck of the tidal waters. This proposed MCZ aims to protect the rare inshore deep-sea beds, submerged lagoons, caves and sea arches to the north of the island, as well as the vulnerable black guillemot population. Rathlin island is one of the most important seabird breeding sites in the UK and Ireland and is home to a special population of black guillemots.  The cliffs are an important nesting area which are rated as amber on the list of the Birds of Conservation Concern Ireland. The sea here reaches up to 250m deep, some of the deepest in the UK. This extremely rare inshore habitat contain fragile cold water coral and deep spinge reefs and support endangered fish such as common skate - both common features before industrial trawling scoured our seabeds.

At risk This site was designated as a Marine Conservation Zone in 2016 - a type of Marine Protected Area. The site remains at risk because of the lack of enforcement to protect the seabed from scallop dredgers.

MPA Type

Marine Conservation Zone in Northern Ireland

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are designated under UK legislation (Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009) and have been established around England, Wales and Northern Ireland to contribute to the UK MPA network protect a range of nationally important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology, and can be designated anywhere in English and Welsh territorial and UK offshore waters.

Designation date

12 December 2016

Surface Area

90.56 km2 (34.96 mi.2)


84.63 km (52.59 mi.)

Seasearch Logo

Seasearch dived the North wall in this site and compiled a report of their findings. They noted that the North Wall is dominated by anthozoans and sponges. At the top of the Wall there is Kelp forest on the rock. Deeper reefs and sponge beds were surveyed by the government.

Learn more about Seasearch

Did you know?…

Over half a million people have voiced their support for ‘marine protected area’ designation in the UK through our campaigns

Over 500,000 records of undersea species and habitats have been collected by volunteer Seasearch divers

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’