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East Rockall Bank MPA

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

East Rockall Bank SAC is situated 320 km west of the Outer Hebrides, to the west of Scotland. The site runs along the eastern edge of Rockall Bank, which forms a steep escarpment descending into the Rockall Trough at approximately 1,000–1,500 m deep




East Rockall Bank SAC is situated 320 km west of the Outer Hebrides, to the west of Scotland. The site runs along the eastern edge of Rockall Bank, which forms a steep escarpment descending into the Rockall Trough at approximately 1,000–1,500 m deep.

The site includes protection for all three types of Annex I reef habitat: bedrock reef, stony reef and biogenic reef. The slope of the eastern flank of Rockall Bank has a ledge of exposed bedrock running along its length that supports bedrock reef. The reef changes to stony reef further down the slope. Iceberg ploughmarks occur on the eastern edge of the summit of Rockall Bank, where stony reef and coral rubble have been observed. The north of the site contains parasitic cones that are characterised by cold water biogenic reef.

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

Map displaying the East Rockall Bank MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA Mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.

Map showing East Rockall Bank Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper


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


Protected Features

Feature Feature Type
1170 Reefs Annex I Habitat

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 in this section and in JNCC’s MPA mapper, and the evidence underpinning this is provided in the Monitoring and Evidence section.


Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of East Rockall Bank SAC. More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation section.

December 2011
Site formally recommended to the UK Government as a draft Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
August 2012
Impact Assessment and report on public consultation submitted. Site becomes a possible SAC.
October 2012
Submitted to the European Commission. The Habitats Regulations now formally apply to this MPA.
November 2013
Site is approved by the European Commission as a Site of Community Importance (SCI).
September 2017
Site is formally designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) by UK Government.


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to East Rockall Bank SAC 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 the JNCC SAC webpages.

The relevant documentation for this site is available on JNCC's Resource Hub.



Last updated: October 2017

The information for this site summary was adapted from documents listed in the Relevant Documentation section and incorporates any further information gathered since these documents were produced.


Site overview

East Rockall Bank SAC is situated 320 km west of the Outer Hebrides, to the west of Scotland. The site runs along the eastern edge of a geological feature known as Rockall Bank. Rockall Bank is orientated north-east to south-west and is approximately 450 km long and 200 km wide. The eastern flank of Rockall Bank forms a scalloped and faulted scarp slope, composed of areas of exposed bedrock and mixed substrates of boulders, cobbles and pebbles. The slope drops steeply into the Rockall Trough at approximately 1,000–1,500 m deep.

The site was selected as a SAC because it contains all three types of Annex I reef habitat: bedrock reef, stony reef and biogenic reef. The slope of the eastern flank of Rockall Bank has a ledge of exposed bedrock running along the length that supports bedrock reef, consisting of lobose sponges, encrusting sponges and assemblages of lace (stylasterid) corals. The bedrock reef changes to stony reef further down the slope, composed of greater abundances of sponges and fewer lace corals.

Fine sand with iceberg ploughmarks occur on the eastern edge of the summit of Rockall Bank. Here, stony reef supports erect bryozoans, axinellid sponges and encrusting sponges. Lophelia pertusa has historically been recorded and recent surveys have observed clumps of Lophelia associated with cobble rubble. Running along the length of the ridge at a depth of 300 m is a habitat containing Saddle oysters, brachiopods, Munida, serpulids, Stylasterids, Cidaris and Lobose sponges. In the northern region of the site, encrusting, globose and lamellate sponges, caryophyllids, Stichopathes and ascidians occur between 950 m and 1,100 m. There are parasitic cones to the north of the site that are characterised by live Lophelia pertusa biogenic reef, supporting a diverse array of antipatharian and gorgonian corals. Two canyons cut into the bank which contain xenophyophores, decapod shrimps, and in the narrower canyon, caryophyllid corals on the floor and sea pens on the canyon flanks. Sediment in-filled dead Lophelia reef framework is found associated with small mound features on the flanks of Rockall Bank. The OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining habitats ‘deep-sea sponge aggregations’ and ‘coral gardens’ are both known to occur in this site.

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

Site area:  3,695 km2, this is nearly twice the size of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park at an area of 1,865 km2.

Site depth range:  On the crest of Rockall Bank, minimum water depth in the site is 120 m below sea-level, but depth increases to 1,730 m below sea-level as the seabed slopes down into Rockall Trough.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Atlantic North-West Approaches, Rockall Trough and Faroe/Shetland Channel.

Site boundary description: The boundary is a polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitat. As bottom trawling could threaten the reef, the boundary includes a margin to allow for gear to be some distance from the vessel at the surface. Assuming a ratio of 2:1 fishing warp length to depth on the continental shelf, on the western side of the site, where the reef is 400–600 m deep, the boundary includes a margin of 800–1,200 m from the reef. The SAC boundary on the eastern side is 2,000–2,400 m from the reef, relative to the associated depths of between 1,000 m to 1,200 m. To the south, Annex I features extend beyond the UK/Ireland agreement for area delimitation in the Hatton-Rockall section of the continental shelf. Therefore, the southern boundary of the site runs along the edge of UK/Ireland continental shelf boundary.


Monitoring and Evidence

Last updated: November 2023

The full overview of the range of data used to support site identification, along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent, is available in the East Rockall Bank MPA SAC Selection Assessment Document. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to the Interactive MPA Mapper in due course. Some of the data for this SAC has been collected through JNCC-funded or collaborative surveys and some through other means. Data from these surveys provide direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site.

Survey and data gathering

  • Deep Links Project (2016) A collaborative project between Plymouth University's Deep Sea CRU and University of Oxford, in partnership with JNCC and British Geological Survey, funded by NERC. During May and June 2016 the team undertook a six week research cruise in the North East Atlantic, including East Rockall Bank, on board the RRS James Cook collecting data. This project aims to investigate the theory that populations at bathyal depths are more isolated because the currents that transport larvae decrease with depth.
  • Rockall Survey (2011) – JNCC took part in the Marine Scotland Science Rockall Haddock survey. Opportunistic video tows were taken during fisheries survey down time. The aim was to locate priority marine features (PMFs) and cover significant areas of Annex I reef.
  • Survey of Darwin Mounds and North West Rockall (2011) – This cruise was part of the MAREMAP initiative (UK Marine Environmental Mapping Programme) and was a collaboration of multiple organisations including JNCC, Plymouth University and the National Oceanography Centre. The main aim of the survey was to use acoustic and image data to perform benthic habitat mapping in relation to human activity. The survey provided additional evidence for live cold-water coral and coral rubble on the northern flanks of Rockall Bank.
  • Anton Dohrn Seamount and East Rockall Bank Survey (2009) – Commissioned by JNCC, this survey was undertaken by the British Geological Survey, University of Plymouth and Marin Mättenik AB. The aim was to acquire high-quality acoustic and photographic “ground-truthing” data to enable the distribution, extent and biological characterisation of Annex I reef. Initial analyses indicate the western flank of the bank is predominantly muddy sand, with coarser sand and gravel on the crest. Bedrock reef was encountered at the 500m depth contour.
  • Rockall Bank Surveys (2005-2009) – These surveys were conducted in collaboration with Fisheries Research Services (now Marine Scotland Science) and the University of Plymouth. The aims of these surveys were to identify and map the range of seabed habitats present on the Rockall Bank, identify areas of Annex I reef and to further develop the deep water sections of the EUNIS habitat classification system. These surveys collected video and camera stills. Iceberg plough marks were observed on the seabed, as were areas of semi buried coral fragments.
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Survey (2005) – The SEA surveys were commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry (now Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)). These surveys, in which JNCC collaborated, collected multibeam and underwater imagery data from areas off the north and west coasts of Scotland. During the 2005 SEA survey, areas of stony reef, bedrock reef and colonies of Lophelia pertusa forming biogenic reef were found on the Rockall Bank.


Data analysis reports

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

  • Analysis of biological data from the JC60 survey (2014) – The data from the National Oceanography Centre, University of Plymouth and JNCC survey of Darwin Mounds and North West Rockall, were analysed and provide further evidence of Annex I reef in East Rockall Bank SAC.
  • Seabed imagery analysis from Scottish offshore surveys (2014) – JNCC commissioned EcoSol to analyse images from three surveys in Scottish offshore waters; this included video tows from East Rockall Bank SAC. Bedrock and stony reef were positively identified from the videos, and possible Lophelia pertusa reef was also observed. Therefore, the results support the presence of Annex I reef in the site.
  • Broadscale habitats of Rockall Bank and mapping of Annex I 'reef' habitat (2009) – Howell et al. (2009) analysed the results from the 2005 and 2006 DTi SEA surveys and routine FRS Scotia surveys undertaken by the Fisheries Research Service (Marine Scotland Science) with participation from JNCC and The University of Plymouth. Areas of stony reef, bedrock reef and colonies of Lophelia pertusa forming biogenic reef were identified on Rockall Bank. Iceberg plough marks and areas of semi buried coral fragments were also observed.


Additional relevant literature 

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the East Rockall Bank MPA SAC Selection Assessment. Please be aware that although these sources contain information in relation to this MPA, they do not necessarily represent the views of JNCC.


Knowledge gaps

As part of the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS), JNCC led the development of a UK Marine Biodiversity Monitoring Strategy, working with partners across the UK monitoring community. The Strategy spans UK territorial and offshore waters, focusing on biodiversity in the wider environment and within Marine Protected Areas.  Its aim is to implement efficient, integrated monitoring of marine biodiversity to provide the evidence needed for all the UK's policy drivers.

Scottish Government's Marine Directorate, in partnership with JNCC and NatureScot, developed a Scottish Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring strategy. The Strategy spans Scottish territorial and offshore waters, focusing on biodiversity within Marine Protected Areas. The Strategy is supported by a series of annexes which provide more detail on monitoring methods, collaborative working, current monitoring and a two year forward look for MPA monitoring in Scottish waters.

The evidence collected during MPA monitoring surveys is used in combination with other available evidence to:

  • Enable assessment of condition of the features within sites;
  • Contribute to the 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.

More detail on offshore MPA monitoring can be found on the Offshore MPA monitoring webpage. A list of monitoring surveys and relevant reports can be found on the MPA monitoring survey reports webpage.

If you are aware of any additional information not referred to in any of the Relevant Documentation section, please contact us.


Conservation Advice

Last updated: March 2018

Updated formal conservation advice is now available for this MPA.  Further information on the approach used to develop this advice is available on our Conservation Advice webpage 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 March 2018). 

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 provide 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 JNCC at:

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 consider 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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