Rathlin Island SAC

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.  This Special Area of Conservation is in place to protect the rocky habitat and reefs, sea cliffs and caves.  The reefs here are one of the best examples in Northern Ireland. A number of species occur here that are rare in Northern Ireland, such as the sea-cucumber, a type of sea sponge, and red algae.  The north-west part of Rathlin Island consists of a shallow rocky shelf and a deeper vertical underwater cliff. This is home to a range of sponges and soft coral. The sea caves in this site are also home to a number of sponges, anemones and are used by the grey seal as a breeding area.  The sea cliffs are home to some species that are recorded as being scarce in Northern Ireland, such as the common juniper, Scots lovage and roseroot.

MPA Type

Special Area of Conservation

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are strictly protected sites designated under European legislation. They contribute both to the UK MPA network and set up to protect habitat types and species considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level (excluding birds).

Designation date

1 March 1998

Surface Area

33.43 km2 (12.91 mi.2)


62.04 km (38.55 mi.)

  • Subtidal sandbanks

    Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time

  • Submerged or partially submerged sea caves

    Typically associated with reefs, caves that are either underwater all the time or welcome the sea at high tides, caves provide a habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals.

  • Annual vegetation of drift lines

    Plants that last mostly only for one growing season on fine shingle shorelines that tend to shift and change.

  • Reefs

    Areas where the bedrock, stable boulders and cobbles or structures created by animals arise from the surrounding seabed. They attract and provide a home to a huge variety of plant and animal life.

Did you know?…

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

An area over 9 times the size of Wales is now in marine protected areas in the UK, but less than 1% is considered by MCS scientists to be well managed

Over 500,000 records on undersea habitats and species have been collected by volunteer Seasearch divers providing significant evidence for inshore ‘marine protected areas’