PLEASE NOTE: The UK Government has submitted an amendment to the boundary of Croker Carbonate Slabs cSAC/SCI to the European Commission for approval. Such an amendment was needed following analysis of data from surveys of the area, which improved our understanding of the extent of the protected feature, Annex I Submarine structures made by leaking gas. The Site Information Centre has been updated to reflect the boundary amendment .

Croker Carbonate Slabs MPA

Status: Candidate Special Area of Conservation and Site of Community Importance (cSAC/SCI)



Croker Carbonate Slabs lies in 70m water depth in the north descending down to approximately 100m 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 cSAC. For more information on this MPA, please see the North Anglesey Marine MPA Site Information Centre.


More detailed site information can be found on the Summary tab.

Map displaying MPA boundary and associated

 protected feature data. Visit the JNCC MPA Mapper 

to further view and explore data for this MPA.



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 Conservation Objectives
1180 Submarine structures made by leaking gases Annex I Habitat* Maintain in favourable condition

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


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 tab below.


Conservation objectives
The overarching conservation objectives for the designated features of all protected sites in UK offshore waters is to ensure they either remain in, or reach favourable condition. The ability of a designated feature to remain in, or reach favourable condition can be affected by its sensitivity to pressures associated with activities taking place within or in close proximity to a protected site. Specific information on the conservation objectives relating to this cSAC/SCI is provided in the Conservation Advice tab.

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 below.



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 the JNCC SAC pages.

Amended boundary 2017:


Original boundary:


These documents have been superseded by the above documents, however, they were correct at the time of original selection and submission to the European Commission in 2008. The original boundary site documents are available to download here.


Information about the SAC site selection process is available on the JNCC SAC pages.




Last updated: November 2017


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 30km west of Anglesey, where a total area of over 60 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 500m in diameter, with steep sides, alongside small mounds and sediment waves.  In addition, a cliff structure 6-8 m high and up to 500m 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 20mm thick (termed ‘low relief ‘ MDAC) and larger structures over 20mm thick and up to 2m high (termed ‘high relief’ MDAC). The exposed MDAC was observed forming two longitudinal features with a SSW-NNE orientation.


Further survey work in 2012 & 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 that previously thought.  In 2015, a monitoring survey of the cSAC/SCI 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 cSAC/SCI can be found on the Evidence tab.


Site location:  Coordinates for cSAC/SCI can be found in the Natura 2000 Standard Data Form listed in the Relevant Documentation.

Site area:  116 km

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

Charting Progress 2 biogeographic region - Irish Sea. 


Site boundary description

The proposed boundary is 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. The habitat feature is delineated from acoustic and groundtruthing data collected during surveys in 2004 and 2008. The proposed boundary includes 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 maximum depth of water around the feature is 100 m; therefore, assuming a ratio of 3:1 fishing warp length to depth on the continental shelf, the cSAC/SCI boundary is defined to include a margin of 300 m from the mapped MDAC features.




Last updated: June 2017


Site specific data
There is a range of data that underpin this cSAC/SCI . 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 cSAC/SCI Selection Assessment.  JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to our MPA interactive map in due course.

Some of the data for this cSAC/SCI has been collected through JNCC funded or collaborative surveys and some through other means.  Data from these surveys/this survey provide 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 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 Channel Croker Carbonate Slabs cSAC/SCI.  The survey collated a range of data including grab samples, images and multibeam. 
  • The distribution and extent of methane-derived authigenic carbonates (2005) - (Judd A. G.,) 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 .


Knowledge gaps
 If you are aware of any additional data or relevant scientific papers for this site not listed in the relevant documentation, or the Croker Carbonate Slabs Selection Assessment listed in the Relevant Documentation, please contact JNCC.


Conservation Advice


Last updated: November 2017


Conservation objectives

Conservation objectives set out the desired state for the protected feature(s) of an MPA. The conservation objectives for the protected feature of the Croker Carbonate Slabs cSAC/SCI has been set based on knowledge of the condition of the protected feature at the time of writing. Further information on feature condition and conservation objectives is provided in the Croker Carbonate Slabs Conservation objectives and advice on operations document.


This information is useful if you are:

  • Preparing Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs) of proposed plans or projects that may affect the site;
  • Planning measures to maintain or restore the site and its qualifying features;
  • Monitoring the condition of the qualifying features; and/or
  • Developing, proposing or assessing an activity, plan or project that may affect the site.


The conservation objectives for the protected feature of the MPA issubject to natural change, maintain the submarine structures made by leaking gases in favourable condition, such that

  • The natural environmental quality is maintained;
  • The natural environmental processes are maintained; and 
  • The extent, physical structure, diversity, community structure and typical species representative of submarine structures made by leaking gases in the Irish Sea are maintained. 


JNCC is working to provide more detailed advice on the relatively broad, high level conservation objective listed above. This supplementary advice will be posted here as and when it becomes available.


Advice on operations

In line with Regulation (21) of the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 which apply to the UK’s offshore marine area. The advice on operations for the protected feature of the Croker Carbonate Slabs cSAC/SCI outline current knowledge of the nature and extent of activities taking place which may have a significant impact on the feature for which a site has been selected.


The advice on operations is based on JNCC’s scientific knowledge of the biological communities present at the time of writing and their sensitivities to pressures. For the most up-to-date information about the biological communities present within the site and their spatial distribution, please see the evidence tab. Sensitivity information for biological communities identified within the site can also be found on MarLIN’s website.


JNCC also provides a list of activities occurring within the site and information on activity management in the Activities and Management tab. This information is also useful when assessing an activity, plan or project which may affect the protected features and JNCC has provided this to aid the cumulative assessment of impacts of human activities within the site. While every attempt has been made to ensure this information is accurate and kept up-to-date, the list is not to be considered exhaustive or definitive. The list does not, for example, include activities occurring off-site which may also be capable of affecting the protected features.  


The information contained within the advice on operations, Activities and Management tab, evidence tab, and MarLIN’s sensitivity assessments are useful if you are:

  • Carrying out any activity that may impact the site and need to find out how to operate within the law;
  • An authority providing advice on specific proposals; and/or
  • An authority responsible for putting management measures in place.


Our scientific understanding of the ecology of the site, its integrity and its qualifying features and how activities can affect them may change over time. JNCC’s conservation advice will be kept under review and will be periodically updated to reflect this and surveillance required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive. Conservation advice for sites which straddle the 12nm boundary will continue to be developed jointly with the relevant country nature conservation body.  Further information on JNCC’s conservation advice work is available via our offshore MPA conservation advice webpage


Activities and Management


Last updated: June 2017


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 member of the OSPAR commission, JNCC are committed to ensuring that the OSPAR MPA network is ‘well-managed’ by 2020.


JNCC consider ‘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 sites 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 cSAC/SCI around each of the four stages in the MPA management cycle.

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 tab.
  • JNCC are in the process of improving our MPA conservation advice packages. Further information is available on our conservation advice pages.
  • Spatial information on the presence and extent of the protected feature of this MPA is available via JNCC's MPA mapper.
  • JNCC are in the process of developing downloadable MPA data packages where appropriate permissions to share datasets are in place.


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.



  • There is evidence of mobile demersal activity within the MPA. Pelagic and potting activity are also recorded to occur within the MPA.
  • The site falls outside the UK's 12 nautical mile limit and is to be exclusively managed under the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). In accordance with Article 18 of the revised CFP, requests for management will be developed jointly between the UK Government and any Member States with a direct management interest in the area affected.
    The Marine Management Organisation are the lead authority regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures to managing fishing activity. Further information on progress is available via MMO’s web pages.


Licensable activities

  • Whilst ‘licensable’ activities such as oil and gas exploration and production do not take place within Croker Carbonate Slabs cSAC/SCI at present, any future proposals would have to comply with Article 6(3) of the EU Habitats Directive 1992, which is transposed into UK law by 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 industries advice webpage


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.

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 tab in due course.


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 tab as it becomes available.




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.




Last updated: June 2017


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 predefined 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. They include the second cycle of the Conservation Status Assessment reports under the EU Habitats Directive, Charting Progress 2 (CP2) and the OSPAR Quality Status Report (QSR). 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.


Every six years, Member States are required under Article 17 of the EU Habitats Directive to report on the Conservation Status of Annex I habitats and Annex II species on the Habitats Directive.  The assessments should consider the habitat or species both within the Natura 2000 network and in the wider sea.  The latest report was submitted by the UK in 2013 and provided a second assessment of the conservation status of relevant habitats and species within UK marine waters during 2007-2012. The next report is for the period 2013-2018 and is due in 2019; information on the condition of features within SACs will make a contribution to this report. 


The assessments of features within MPAs will also feed into six yearly reports on the state of the marine environment under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which aims to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) by 2020.



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