‘Act now’ over NI’s marine life

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The new environment minister must act to protect NI’s precious marine habitats, a campaign group has said.

Arlene Foster has been urged to commit to introducing a Northern Ireland Marine Act as part of a new package of UK-wide marine legislation.

The Northern Ireland Marine Task Force, an alliance of conservation groups, said the minister-designate needed to act urgently.

A Marine Policy Forum will take place at Stormont later.

It will include assembly members, European Commission officials and business representatives.

Melanie Gomes of the WWF Northern Ireland said introducing a new sea management system, including zoning of highly protected marine reserves, could help preserve precious marine biodiversity.

“Over half of Northern Ireland’s wildlife lives in and around our seas – at least 4,000 species – and yet less than 4% of it is protected,” she said.

The task force also said a new system of marine planning and licensing could lessen the administrative burden on marine business and industry.

This could mean the identification of areas most suitable for certain activities and integrating “the tangle of over 100 laws that currently apply in Northern Ireland’s waters”.

It said the environmental economy in Northern Ireland supported 32,749 full-time equivalent jobs and contributed