Torbay MCZ

Status: Designated


Site overview

This is an inshore site located in the south west of the UK. The site covers an area of coastline in South Devon between Oddicombe Beach and Sharkham Point, protecting a total area of approximately 20 km2. Torbay is a large natural harbour, bordered by the busy holiday towns of Torquay, Paignton and the fishing port of Brixham. The sandy areas in this site that are close to shore contain large areas of vulnerable seagrass meadows, which offer a vital nursery ground and feeding place for many marine animals, including the long-snouted seahorse. The long-snouted seahorse also inhabits seagrass beds and is found within this area. Seahorses wrap their long tails around plants to prevent them from being swept away by strong currents. The long snout of this particular seahorse is more than one third of the length of its head and acts like a vacuum cleaner for food. Seahorses are known to form faithful pairs for at least the duration of the breeding season, and are unique in the animal kingdom in that it is the male that carries the developing young. The female transfers her eggs into a pouch on his stomach, where they are fertilised and the pouch sealed. The male gives birth to fully formed young about three weeks later.

MPA Type

Marine Conservation Zone

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.

Surface Area

19.87 km2 (7.67 mi.2)


65.29 km (40.57 mi.)

  • Long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus)

    Seahorses are actually bony fish. Instead of scales, seahorses have skin stretched over a series of bony plates, which are visible as rings around the body. This bony armour helps protect them, and there are few animals that eat adult seahorses.

  • Subtidal mud

    A very rich and diverse muddy undersea habitat that supports high numbers of worms, cockles and other shellfish, urchins and sea cucumbers as well as sea pens, burrowing anemones and brittlestars.

  • Seagrass beds

    Seagrasses (also known, for their long thin leaves, as eel grass) are grass-like flowering plants with dark green, long, narrow, ribbon-shaped leaves. They are one of the very few groups of flowering plants that live in the sea.

  • Intertidal mud

    The quiet water in sheltered estuaries and harbours allows very fine silt and clay to settle and form a layer of mud that can be exposed at low tide. These glistening muddy expanses can be packed ful of life and are sometimes called the ‘larders of the s

  • Moderate energy intertidal rock

    Rocky seashores, above low tide, with some shelter from waves and currents. On these shores, there are places where plants and animals can find shelter from the waves – the landward sides of boulders, in cracks and crevices, and in rock pools.

  • Low energy intertidal rock

    Rocky seashores, sheltered from waves and currents dominated by seaweeds and exposed at low tide.

  • Intertidal sand and muddy sand

    The beach! Sandy shores are made up of clean sand or slightly muddy sand, often scattered with seashells and stones. The surface is often ‘rippled’ by the action of waves. Below the surface worms and shellfish stay safe and damp.

  • Intertidal mixed sediments

    Sheltered shores where there is a mixture of pebbles, gravels, sands and mud and there may also be rocks and a few large boulders. Because it’s diverse, it provides a home for a wide variety of animals.

  • Intertidal coarse sediment

    Where small rocks, pebbles, and gravel, sometimes mixed with coarse sand are sometimes covered by the tide. While it may not look like much lives there - there are animals specially adapted to live in the moist spaces between the shingle and gravel.

  • Intertidal underboulder communities

    The marine life living under boulders on the seashore. These damp, shady spots are home to a different set of creatures that you don’;t find on the rest of the shore.

  • Native oyster beds (Ostrea edulis)

    Native oysters are two shelled animals - one half is like a cup and attaches to the rock, the other is flat and forms a lid. In shallow water on fine, muddy sand, they can be found in huge numbers and form extensive beds, which become home to many other m

  • Peat and clay exposures

    Seabeds formed of exposed peat or clay, or in some cases both, which are very rare. Where they do occur they attract a variety of plant and animal life.

Seasearch Logo

Seasearch divers have been surveying this site on a regular basis for over 15 years. Before this site was designated they submitted evidence of the underwater environment in the form of a report - which helped secure designation.

Learn more about Seasearch

Did you know?…

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

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

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