Marine historic environment

Northern Ireland’s inshore and offshore regions contain a rich archaeological record spanning the previous 9,000 years. It includes material ranging from prehistoric flint tools and log boats to historic harbour installations, First World War shipwrecks and coastal defences.

Types of heritage asset

The marine historic environment can be characterised as comprising the following principal types of heritage asset:

  • wrecks of ships, boats and aircraft
  • submerged prehistory, such as artefacts, structures and deposits that are presently submerged as a consequence of sea-level rise but which originated from human activities on land
  • coastal and intertidal archaeology, which covers a very wide range of artefacts, structures and deposits that originated from inhabitation or use of the coast

Who protects the marine historic environment?

New UK marine legislation advocates "the need to protect the environment" inclusive of "any site of historic or archaeological interest". Historic Environment Division works with the Marine and Fisheries Division (Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs) and other key partners, to ensure significant marine archaeological sites are managed and protected. By helping to protect and manage sustainably our most important marine archaeological sites, the Historic Environment Division is ensuring that these sites can be enjoyed by future generations and further delivering on Government’s High Level Marine Objectives (2008).

The UK is a signatory to the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (revised) 1992. The aim of the Convention is to protect the archaeological heritage as a source of the European collective memory and as an instrument for historical and scientific study, whether on land or underwater.


Both the UK Marine Policy Statement (2011) and the Marine Plan for Northern Ireland (once adopted) further recognise the need to protect and manage marine cultural heritage in a manner appropriate to its significance in order to realise wider social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits. A wider context is provided by the Rules annexed to the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. These Rules have been adopted by HM Government as being ‘best practice’ for marine archaeology and, as such, frame the respective UK heritage agencies approach to the subject.

In order to meet these commitments DfC Historic Environment Division work closely with DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division in the protection and management of Northern Ireland’s marine heritage assets. Historic Environment Division has produced a position statement that sets out a framework by which it will work with DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division and other key partners towards better marine heritage management in Northern Ireland.

Our role

We protect Northern Ireland's marine heritage, working from shore to the limits of our national waters by:

  • helping to ensure that key marine heritage sites are managed and protected through licensing, formal designation, strategic investigation and the delivery of appropriate policy and guidance
  • co-ordinating marine historic environment advice to support marine planning, marine licensing and the designation of marine conservation zones
  • helping to enhance the record of the marine historic environment and dissemination of this information to support marine planning, marine licensing, the designation of marine conserve action zones, and to strengthen the Maritime Heritage Record
  • helping to develop a wider understanding and enjoyment of marine heritage

For further information see the DAERA website.

Back to top