220-year-old shellfish among rare wildlife protected by new conservation zones

One of the 220-year-old clams in Belfast Lough now protected in a Marine Conservation Zone. Picture by Paul Kay
Paul Ainsworth

CLAMS over 200 years old that reside in Belfast Lough are among vulnerable sea wildlife to be protected under new Marine Conservation Zones.

The shellfish are estimated to have been living in the waters beside the city for around 220 years, and their territory is now a protected area along with three other new zones.

The four new marine conservation zones are: 

  • outer Belfast Lough
  • Rathlin Island and its habitat of rare black guillemots 
  • Waterfoot where one of Ireland’s largest seagrass meadows is located 
  • Carlingford Lough and its community of sea pens, which are a type of soft coral 

The number of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in the north now stands at five. The first was established in Strangford Lough in 2013, and the new zones were implemented with the help of over 1,450 letters of support submitted by the public.

Rebecca Hunter, an officer with the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force, said: “We are delighted to see the value of our seas recognised and protected within these areas. Northern Ireland is home to some of Europe’s most important marine wildlife and habitats.

“Marine Conservation Zones provide a real opportunity for the recovery of our seas and with effective management, previously damaged habitats and wildlife can recover. But, we need more of them to fill the gaps and this is only the start of the process.”

Ms Hunter warned sea health was “declining” and said more MCZs needed to be established though the Marine Task Force working alongside the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

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