A new report has called for increased protection for horse mussel reefs in Northern Ireland’s marine nature reserve of Strangford Lough. Queen’s University Belfast published its findings after carrying out a £1 million study to assess the damage to the reefs and come up with a restoration action plan. Following a 2003 survey that revealed the worsening condition of the reefs, Northern Ireland’s agriculture department introduced a ban on trawling and dredging in the area.
Now the report has urged tougher restrictions to allow the underwater structures to recover, which could mean new regulations on diving, boating and pot fishing in the area. Strangford Lough, with its delicate reefs and diverse species of fauna, is one of only two designated marine reserves in Ireland. Environment Minister Alex Attwood has backed the recommendations of the report for “total protection” for the area. He said it was now up to the environment and agriculture departments to “use their powers to introduce legislation to make that happen”.