Dive NI

Marine Protected Areas

Northern Ireland has a network of 41 Marine Protected Areas which are important for safeguarding vulnerable or unique marine species and habitats of national or international importance

What is a Marine Protected Area?

A Marine Protected Area (MPA) is a clearly defined geographical space within the marine environment, 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.

MPAs are important to safeguard vulnerable or unique marine species and habitats of national or international importance in the Northern Ireland marine environment.

There are different types of MPAs in Northern Ireland with different levels of protection at national and international level:

Marine Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)

Marine Special Protected Areas (SPA)

Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI)

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ)

Ramsar sites



Can I dive within a Marine Protected Area?

Yes. Recreational scuba diving is allowed within an MPA, provided that this activity is carried out in a sustainable manner and there is no intentional damage caused to the designated features so that conservation objectives within each site can be met.

Recreational diving can go hand-in-hand with marine biodiversity conservation efforts. Information recorded by divers and other recreational users on the on-going condition of our marine ecosystems could help experts to identify trends and changes in our MPA network and wider marine environment. This will allow local authorities to implement necessary management strategies to support sustainable use of the marine environment and ensure it remains healthy so that it contributes to our society for generations to come.

You can actively help to protect the marine environment by reporting your marine wildlife sightings (see Record Species) and watching out for marine wildlife disturbance.



Where are Marine Protected Areas in N.I.?

The network of MPAs in Northern Ireland currently totals 41 sites, occupying over 38% of the coastal waters and almost 30% of all Northern Ireland territorial waters (including inshore and offshore):

Further information on MPAs and designated habitats can be viewed in DAERA’s Marine MapViewer.

For more information about Marine Protected Areas, contact the DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division via the Website or Email