The RYA has encouraged boatowners to give their opinions on the latest tranche of Marine Conservation Zones in Northern Ireland

Four sites in Northern Ireland could be designated as Marine Conservation Zones under new government plans.

Rathlin, Waterfoot, Outer Belfast and Carlingford Lough have all been named as potential Marine Conservation Zones (pMCZs).

And the Royal Yachting Association has said that it will be considering the plans from the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland in detail to avoid any adverse impact on the safety of navigation for recreational boating.

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In a statement, Emma Barton, planning and environmental manager, at the RYA said: “These sites are not only valuable to our local clubs and training centres, but also to visiting recreational boaters from other locations.”

Options being considered include a speed restriction zone, limits on anchoring and a limit on marina expansion at Rathlin.

Meanwhile, a ban on dredging at Waterfoot is proposed, along with a limit on anchoring at Outer Belfast, although this is likely to affect commercial vessels more than leisure boats.

Finally, the government plans for Carlingford Lough include limits on dredging, development and anchoring. This area could be expanded to include the Ardglass Gullies.

The Maidens, Lough Foyle, Outer Ards and Dundrum Bay have not been included in this round of pMCZs but remain Areas of Search.

Environment minister Mark H Durkan added: “As well as protecting nationally important marine wildlife, the Zones will also protect geological features in these waters.”

All interested parties are encouraged to give their opinions on the plans via an online consultation, which closes on March 11, 2016.

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