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Croker Carbonate Slabs MPA

Updated Conservation Advice was produced for the Croker Carbonate Slabs SAC in March 2018, and is available in the Conservation Advice section below.

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

The Croker Carbonate Slabs MPA is an area in the mid-Irish Sea, approximately 30 km west of Anglesey. The site lies in 70 m water depth in the north, descending down to approximately 100 m at the south-west corner of the site.

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Site

Croker Carbonate Slabs lies in 70 m water depth in the north descending down to approximately 100 m at the south-west corner of the site.  The seabed surface is composed of extensive areas of exposed methane-derived authigenic carbonate (MDAC). These carbonate blocks and pavement slabs form when methane is released from the seabed and reacts with water and are known as 'submarine structures made by leaking gases' – a listed habitat under Annex I of the EC Habitats Directive. The seabed habitats created by these MDAC structures are distinctive, supporting a diverse range of marine species that are absent from the surrounding seabed, which is characterised by coarse sediment. Areas of 'high relief' MDAC support a diverse range of soft corals, erect filter feeders, sponges, tube worms and anemones whilst the 'low relief' MDAC is colonised with scour-resistant hydroids and bryozoans.

The Croker Carbonate Slabs MPA overlaps with a candidate Special Area of Conservation/Site of Community Importance that has been identified for the protection of Harbour porpoise – the North Anglesey Marine SAC. For more information on this MPA, please see the North Anglesey Marine MPA Site Information Centre.

More detailed site information can be found in the Summary section below.

Legislation

Legislation behind the designation: EU Habitats Directive 1992 transposed into UK law by the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

 

Protected features

Features Feature Type
1180 Submarine structures made by leaking gases Annex I Habitat*

*For the latest Annex I habitat resource figures, please see the link to the latest Habitats Directive Article 17 reporting in the Assessment section. 

Specific information on the conservation objectives relating to this site is provided in the Conservation Advice section.

The acquisition of new data may result in updates to our knowledge on feature presence and extent within this site. The most up-to-date information is reflected on the map on this page and in JNCC’s MPA mapper, and the evidence underpinning this can be viewed in the Evidence section below.

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Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of Croker Carbonate Slabs. More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation section.

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Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Croker Carbonate Slabs were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date. This Site Information Centre is the most up-to-date source of information for this MPA, and will reflect any additional information gathered since these documents were produced. Information about the SAC site selection process is available on JNCC's SAC webpages.

 

Amended boundary 2017:

These documents are available on JNCC's Resource Hub

 

Original boundary:

An amendment to the site boundary for Croker Carbonate Slabs was consulted on in 2017 and approved and submitted to the European Commission in November 2017. More information can be found in the consultation archive. The original site documents from the original site designated in 2008 are available to download from The National Archives website. However, these have since been superseded by the above documents.

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Summary

Last updated: August 2019

Information for this site summary was adapted from the SAC Selection Assessment Document and incorporates any further information gathered since these documents were produced. Please refer to this document in the Relevant Documentation section for further details and information sources.

 

Site overview

The Croker Carbonate Slabs is an area in the mid-Irish Sea, approximately 30 km west of Anglesey, where a total area of over 55 km2  of the Annex I feature "submarine structures made by leaking gases" have been identified. The seabed surface is composed of extensive areas of exposed methane-derived authigenic carbonate (MDAC). The seabed habitats created by these MDAC structures are distinctive, supporting a diverse range of marine species that are absent from the surrounding seabed characterised by coarse sediment.

MDAC is formed when calcite precipitates and infills the pore spaces between the sand grains, creating a layer or crust that can form carbonate 'pavements' and 'chimneys'; significant hard ground compared to the surrounding sediment. When exposed at the seabed surface, MDAC appears to be broken down and eroded rapidly both through biological activity (boring by bivalve molluscs) and by water currents into sand and gravel sized fragments.

Earlier surveys in 2005 confirmed the existence of MDAC in the site. Acoustic data indicated a generally flat seabed with large depressions up to 500 m in diameter, with steep sides, alongside small mounds and sediment waves. In addition, a cliff structure 6–8 m high and up to 500 m long was recorded. Survey of this area found cemented rocks providing a firm substrate for a diverse range of fauna. Chemical analysis of carbonate samples collected during this survey indicated they were methane-derived and thermogenic in origin.

Additional survey work undertaken in 2008 further established the presence of MDAC over a wider area. The feature was mapped using high resolution acoustics (multibeam echo-sounder and sidescan sonar) and validated using seabed imagery and grab samples. Within the site, the MDAC structures took two key forms, extensive MDAC 'pavement' or 'slabs' up to 20 mm thick (termed 'low relief' MDAC) and larger structures over 20 mm thick and up to 2 m high (termed 'high relief' MDAC). The exposed MDAC was observed forming two longitudinal features with a SSW–NNE orientation.

Further survey work in 2012 and 2013 provided evidence to support an amendment to the site boundary. Full coverage acoustic data, combined with video imagery suggested the extent of Annex I Submarine structures made my leaking gases is more extensive than previously thought. In 2015, a monitoring survey of the SAC was undertaken to contribute to the development of a monitoring time-series for the site.

The hard substratum provided by the MDAC provides an ideal physical habitat for a range of marine life, in stark contrast to the surrounding coarse sediment. Information on the biological communities was gained through analysis of the seabed imagery; over 79 species were identified. Further detail on the evidence for this SAC can be found in the Evidence section.

Site location:  Co-ordinates for SAC can be found in the Natura 2000 Standard Data Form listed in the Relevant Documentation.

Site area:  116 km

Site depth range: 65 m below sea-level on top of the slabs feature, down to 109 m below sea-level at their base.

Charting Progress 2 biogeographic region: Irish Sea. 

 

Site boundary description

The original boundary was delineated following the SAC boundary guidelines resulting in a simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitat, following the extent of the habitat feature as closely as possible. It included a margin to allow for mobile gear on the seabed being at some distance from the location of a vessel at the sea surface.

The amended boundary, which came into place in 2017, extends the site boundary to the north-east, north-west and south-west of the existing boundary, following a contiguous area of Annex I habitat known as MDAC (approximately 55 km2 (5,500 ha)) identified through surveys undertaken in 2012 and 2013. The revision to the boundary encompasses a large area of MDAC to the east of the previously mapped extent, together with smaller patches of MDAC to the south-west. The western boundary of the site follows the median line between the offshore waters of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Following JNCC’s UK SAC boundary guidance, the boundary includes a buffer zone of ~240 m around the known extent of MDAC, based on a fishing warp ratio of 3:1 using the average depth of the seabed (80 m) (JNCC 2008). This buffer was manually adjusted to give a 300 m buffer in the southern part of the site where the feature occurs in deeper waters (~100 m on average).

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Evidence

Last updated: August 2019

There are a range of data that underpin this SAC. The full overview of the data used to support site identification, along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent is available in the Croker Carbonate Slabs SAC Selection Assessment Document. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to its MPA mapper in due course.

Some of the data for this SAC have been collected through JNCC-funded or collaborative surveys and some through other means. Data from these surveys provides direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site.

 

Survey and data gathering

  • Croker Carbonate Slabs Monitoring Survey (2015) – A dedicated monitoring survey of Croker Carbonate Slabs SAC was conducted in October/November 2015. The principal aim of the survey was to collect information. Reporting is underway and will be made available in due course.
  • North St George’s Channel rMCZ Verification Survey (2012/2013) – JNCC commissioned a survey to North St George’s rMCZ which spatially overlaps with Croker Carbonate Slabs SAC. The survey collated a range of data including grab samples, images and multibeam. 
  • The distribution and extent of methane-derived authigenic carbonates (2005) – (A.G. Judd) DTI Strategic Environmental Assessment, Area 6 (SEA6). Department of Trade and Industry, UK
  • Shallow Gas Accumulation and Migration in the Western Irish Sea (1995) – IN: Croker, P.F. and Shannon, P.M. (ed.), The Petroleum Geology of Ireland's Offshore Basins, Geological Society of London, London, Special Publication 93, 41–58. Jorgensen, 1992.

 

Data analysis reports

Further analysis of data gathered as part of the surveys listed above are available via the following reports:

 

Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the Selection Assessment Document.

 

Knowledge gaps

If you are aware of any additional information not listed in the Relevant Documentation section, or here, please contact us.

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Conservation Advice

Last updated: February 2018 

Updated formal conservation advice for this MPA was produced in February 2018. Further information on the approach used to develop this advice is available on the Conservation Advice webpages along with a Glossary of Terms used in JNCC conservation advice and a short video explaining how to use the conservation advice packages. 

You must refer to this advice if you:

  • undertake a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) for a plan or project that could impact the site;
  • provide information for a HRA;
  • respond to specific measures to support delivery of the conservation objectives for the site; and 
  • consider the need to put new or additional management measures in place.

You may also find it useful to refer to this advice if you:

  • carry out any other activity that could impact the site.

We will engage with stakeholders to identify any lessons which JNCC can learn from customers who have used the advice, with a view to continuing to ensure it is fit-for-purpose.

The following table provides an overview of the components of the conservation advice, and provides hyperlinks to each of the products for this MPA. These elements together form JNCC’s formal conservation advice for this site and should be read in conjunction with each other. This updated advice replaces the previous Regulation 18 package for the site. This advice reflects the most up-to-date evidence held by JNCC (correct as of February 2018, before the site was designated a SAC).  

Document Overview
Background Information Explains the purpose of the advice and when it must be referred to.

Conservation Objectives

Supplementary Advice on the Conservation Objectives (SACO)

The Conservation Objectives set out the broad ecological aims for the site. JNCC provides supplementary advice in the SACO which is essential reading to support interpretation of these conservation objectives.

You can use these documents to assess the impacts of your planned activity on the important attributes of the site.

Please note our current understanding of whether the available evidence indicates that each attribute needs to be restored or maintained is not provided here. However, links to available evidence for the site are provided and should you require further site-specific information for the site, please contact us.

Conservation Advice Statements

These statements provide a summary of the Supplementary Advice on the Conservation Objectives (SACO).

  • Site condition presents our up-to-date understanding of the condition of features within the site;
  • Conservation benefits which the site can provide, these help you understand what is important about the site and why it needs protecting; and
  • Conservation measures which JNCC considers are needed to support achievement of the conservation objectives. These provide clarity around measures needed to support restoration or maintenance of the feature(s) within the site.
Advice on Operations

Provides information on the activities capable of affecting site integrity and therefore achievement of the site’s conservation objectives.

This is a starting point for determining potential management requirements. It does not take into account the intensity, frequency or cumulative impacts from activities taking place. It is simply to advise you of the possible adverse impacts that your activity can have on a MPA’s features.

Use the advice on operations to determine those pressures your activity causes that could harm the habitat and/or species features of the site.

These documents are available on JNCC's Resource Hub

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Activities and Management

Last updated: August 2019

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed

Progress is ongoing with the recommendation of fisheries management proposals to the European Commission. A monitoring survey was undertaken in 2015 to improve our understanding as to whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives. Ongoing site condition monitoring work will be required, however, in order to conclude with confidence as to the degree to which the site is moving towards or achieving its conservation objectives.

This site forms part of the UK's contribution to the OSPAR Commission’s network of MPAs and the Emerald Network established under the Bern Convention. As the UK is a contracting party to the OSPAR Commission, JNCC is committed to ensuring that the OSPAR MPA network is 'well-managed' by 2020.

JNCC considers 'well-managed' to mean the timely progress of an MPA around the 'MPA management cycle'. This involves:

  1. The documentation of appropriate management information – conservation objectives, advice on activities capable of affecting the protected features of a site, and spatial information on the presence and extent of the protected features of a site.
  2. The implementation of management measures – management actions considered necessary to achieve the conservation objectives of a site.
  3. Site condition monitoring programmes – collecting the information necessary to determine progress towards a site's conservation objectives.
  4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives – using available information to infer whether or not a site is moving towards or has achieved its conservation objectives.

The sub-sections that follow provide an account of the progress of Croker Carbonate Slabs SAC around each of the four stages in the MPA management cycle.

 

1. The documentation of appropriate management information

  • The conservation objectives and advice on activities capable of affecting the conservation status of the protected feature of this site are available under the Conservation Advice section.  Further information is available on our Conservation advice webpages.
  • Spatial information on the presence and extent of the protected feature of this MPA is available via JNCC's MPA mapper.
  • JNCC is in the process of developing downloadable MPA data packages where appropriate permissions to share datasets are in place.

 

2. The implementation of management measures

This section details progress towards the implementation of management measures for activities considered capable of affecting the conservation status of the protected feature of the site. The protected feature of the site is considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and 'licensable' activities.

Fisheries

  • There is evidence of mobile demersal activity within the MPA. Pelagic and potting activity are also recorded to occur within the MPA.
  • The Marine Management Organisation is the lead authority regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures to managing fishing activity. Further information on progress is available on the Marine Management Organisation's webpages.

Licensable activities

  • Whilst 'licensable' activities such as oil and gas exploration and production do not take place within Croker Carbonate Slabs SAC at present, any future proposals would have to comply with the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.
  • Our conservation advice supports the consents process by setting out the conservation objectives for the protected feature of this MPA and advice on activities that may result in pressures to which the protected feature is considered sensitive.
  • Further information on JNCC's role in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on JNCC's offshore industry advice webpages

Telecommunications cables

  • Three telecommunications cables currently cross through the MPA.
  • Cables are largely an unregulated activity in offshore waters depending upon the type of cable being laid (or maintained), where it is being laid between and whether the cable is part of a larger development (which may be regulated). Any cable not directly associated with an energy installation does not require a marine license beyond 12 nautical miles.
  • JNCC encourages early discussion from operators regarding any plans related to new or existing cables, and encourages the undertaking of non-statutory environmental impact assessments for new or existing cable projects to assess their effect on the protected features of the MPA.

 

3. Site condition monitoring

A baseline condition monitoring survey for this MPA was undertaken in Autumn 2015, to gather evidence to contribute to the development of a monitoring time-series for the site. The results of this survey are not yet available. Further information will be made available under the Monitoring section in due course.

 

4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

No long-term condition monitoring data is available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives. Further information will be provided under the Assessment section as it becomes available.

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Monitoring

Last updated: June 2017

JNCC is currently leading on the development of a strategy for biodiversity monitoring across all UK waters, to include MPA monitoring. Data and evidence collected from MPA monitoring activities will aim to:

  • Enable assessment of condition of the features within sites;
  • Enable assessment of the degree to which management measures are effective in achieving the conservation objectives for the protected features;
  • Support the identification of priorities for future protection and/or management; and
  • Enable Government to fulfil its national and international assessment and reporting commitments in relation to MPAs and help identify where further action may be required.

Information on monitoring of this MPA will be provided when it becomes available.

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Assessment

Last updated: January 2019

Assessments of the condition of designated features in offshore MPAs are required to report against our legal obligations. Ideally these assessments should be based on observed data, and then measured against targets for pre-defined indicators. However, for MPAs in offshore waters we do not always have the appropriate information to be able to do so. This is particularly true for seabed habitats, which are the main type of feature designated for protection in offshore MPAs. 

To address these challenges, JNCC has been an active partner in the development of new approaches and tools for the assessment of habitats and species for a variety of national and international status reports.

 

Conservation Assessment Reports

Every six years, Member States of the European Union are required (by Article 17 of the Directive) to report on implementation of the Habitats Directive. The latest report on the Conservation Status of Annex I habitats and Annex II species on the Habitats Directive was submitted by the UK in 2019 and provided an assessment of the conservation status of relevant habitats and species within UK marine waters during period 2013–2018; information on the condition of features within SACs have made a contribution to this report.

 

UK State of the Seas Reports & UK Marine Strategy Part 1

Charting Progress 2 (CP2) published in 2010, is a comprehensive report on the state of the UK seas. It was published by the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS) community which has over 40 member organisations. The report was based on a robust, peer-reviewed evidence base and describes progress made since the publication of Charting Progress in 2005. It provides key findings from UK marine research and monitoring for use by policy makers and others, as we move towards the UK vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas. The results from CP2 were incorporated into the UK Marine Strategy Part 1: UK Initial Assessment and Good Environmental Status published in 2012 under the UK Marine Strategy Regulations (2010). The UK Marine Strategy Part 1 (2012) also set out the UK’s definition for Good Environmental Status, which could be achieved by meeting a series of environmental targets. JNCC worked with other organisations in the UKMMAS community to develop a series of indicators that were used to assess progress against each of the targets and to report on progress made since 2012. The results of these assessments have been published in the UK Marine Strategy Part 1: UK Updated Assessment and Good Environmental Status in 2019. Detailed evidence used to make these assessments is available via the Marine Online Assessment Tool (MOAT). It also sets out proposals for updated high-level objectives, targets and operational targets to be used for 2018 to 2024, which build on those set in 2012.

It is worth noting the two other parts of the UK Marine Strategy: UK Marine Strategy Part Two: marine monitoring programmes, published in 2014 and UK Marine Strategy Part Three: programme of measures published in 2015. Updates to these will be made in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

 

OSPAR Quality Status Reports

Many of the assessments in the updated UK Marine Strategy Part 1 2019 were developed and produced in collaboration with other contracting Parties of the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic. In 2017 OSPAR Published its Intermediate Assessment (IA2017). The IA 2017 further develops OSPAR’s understanding of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic and its current status. It demonstrates OSPAR’s progress towards realising its vision of a clean, healthy and biologically diverse North-East Atlantic, used sustainably. IA2017 follows on from OSPAR’s previous holistic assessment, the OSPAR Quality Status Report in 2010 (QSR2010) and in 2000 (QSR2000).

 

JNCC continues to develop and pilot tools for the assessment of marine habitats and species in offshore waters to improve the quality and transparency of our offshore MPA assessments, and contribute to the monitoring of marine biodiversity in UK waters. These tools cover methods for producing interim assessments of site features and their responses to pressures, as well as developing more robust indicators for determining condition of the features.

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