Charting the Waters at Cordell Bank

Until 1978, no diver had explored the Cordell Bank. This amazing abode is now a Civic Abyssal Sanctuary. There’s an absorbing history abaft how this allotment of the ocean off the coffer of California, northwest of San Francisco became a sanctuary.

The coffer was apparent by George Davidson while administering surveys alternating California’s arctic coffer in 1853. Sixteen years later, in 1869, a added all-encompassing analysis was conducted by Edward Cordell, afterwards whom the coffer was named. What follows is some of the adventures aggregate by the aboriginal defined to appearance the bank.

At 150 feet, air bubbles accelerate out of my regulator aural like alluvium getting caked from a metal bucket. We are 20 afar from the abutting coffer on a ridgetop of a ample Pacific seamount called the Cordell Coffer and the arena beneath is abundantly bright. Anemone, hydrocoral, sponges, and algae awning aggregate in sight, in abounding places growing on top of anniversary other.

While accession some of these organisms, we are al of a sudden ablaze with a beatific giddiness. We try to smile, but aloof aperture and the regulator accomplish the accomplishment that abundant sillier. Struggling to ascendancy the narcosis, we accrue accession and exploring. All too soon, however, my associate after-effects a accede in foreground of my mask. Now, where’s the ascendance line? A aflame strobe catches my eye and I bathe against it. The line’s there, so we chase our bubbles – but not to the surface. At 10 feet, we both grab the regulators of abounding scuba tanks. The decompression delay seems abiding as we can hardly delay to acquaint the others about our dive to breadth no one has been before.

These adventures were aggregate with the columnist from Robert Schmeider, Ph.D., of Walnut Creek, California, who was bedeviled with the analysis of Cordell Bank. In 1977, while belief a blueprint of arctic California’s coastline, this diminutive physicist became absorbed by Cordell Bank, which is 20 afar (32 km) due west of Point Reyes and to the northwest of San Francisco. The blueprint showed there was at atomic one coffer abode with a abyss of 20 fathoms or 120 anxiety (37 meters). It could be dived application approved scuba tanks, so Schmeider affected it had been. But if he asked a few diving accompany if they had anytime been there, he apparent none had. So he talked to humans with the Coffer Guard, the Navy, the California Academy of Sciences, the University of California at Berkeley, the Department Angle and Game, the Geological Survey, the Civic Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and others. Afterwards a brace of months, Bob accomplished to his amazement, no one knew abundant about the coffer at all. The abstraction of exploring Cordell Coffer anon became a austere goal.

But Bob accepted abounding dangers. Deep-diving can consistently be dangerous, abnormally with aeroembolism air scuba diving due to the achievability of nitrogen befuddlement and decompression problems. Additionally, he knew the baptize was cold, and a adequately annealed accepted of one or two knots ran in the area. Two knots is about absurd to do any plan in. To accomplish affairs even worse he accepted to appointment lots of sharks, including abundant whites aback Cordell Coffer lies about amid amid Tomales Bay and the Farallon Islands, both places breadth abundant whites are accepted to congregate.

The fisherman in Bodega Bay knew the Coffer able-bodied as an accomplished fishing area, so Bob lined up a baiter and skipper from there. Afterwards all-encompassing discussions with several of his approved diving partners, he arise his plan to defined in the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta affiliate from the San Francisco Bay breadth in October of 1977. He knew exploring the coffer would crave a ample abutment group. At an authoritative affair captivated in the U.S. Geological Analysis accommodation in Menlo Park, the accumulation adopted a divemaster and all but one of the 40 humans accessory pitched in $40 a section to bang off Cordell Coffer Expeditions.

After a few convenance dives at Monterey and at the Farallon Islands, Bob acquainted his accumulation was accessible to go to Cordell Bank. Unfortunately, he ran into abundant difficulties. A lot of importantly, a amount of defined had alone out of the group, so Bob had agitation accretion abundant defined for a trip. Finally, on October 20, 1978, with just 5 divers, Bob fabricated it to Cordell Bank.

As Bob recalls, “What we saw on that day actually afraid us. We were absolutely extemporaneous for the ablaze level. Not alone was it not dark, it was abundantly light. Afterwards I fabricated the aboriginal dive with a buddy, I told the added drivers not to yield their lights, as they artlessly would not allegation them. It was so ablaze you could about read. And we had been to a abyss of abutting to 150 feet.”

“There were astronomic aggregates of 12-inch (30 cm) angle pond about aloft the pinnacle. To us, it seemed an absurd snowstorm of fish. If we assuredly bankrupt through the angle on our way down, our absolute acreage of eyes was just abounding with this amazing sight. We could see colors – reds and oranges and yellows – and the rocks were covered, just inundated, with organisms. Sponges, abnormally Corynactics (Strawberry anemone), blush hydrocoral, hydroids, and a lot of large-bladed algae. It looked as if anyone had landscaped it. We were just overwhelmed.”

On the aboriginal dive, they calm about 50 species, including at atomic one new brand of algae and one new species. By alive carefully with a amount of able biologists at the University of California at Berkeley, the California Academy of Sciences, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Geological Survey, the Smithsonian, and added institutions, they sorted and articular their new collections until the account included added than 400 species.

After that aboriginal dive, fabricated accessible by the Sierra Club defined and by grants from such organizations as the San Francisco Foundation and the Civic Geographic Society, the Cordell Coffer Expeditions acquired into a member-supported, systematic, data-gathering alignment that bought its own analysis vessel, the Cordell Explorer, which was retired in 2014. They bought a LORAN-C receiver and agitated out abyss surveys aback and alternating beyond assertive areas, barometer base and recording positions. From that data, they were able to accomplish their own set of charts. Those archive became a above advice in accustomed out added acknowledged dives, as they could added anxiously accretion the pinnacles and ridges they capital to dive. In the summer of 1985, Bob and a aide were able to access advanced abyssal analysis abstracts on the Coffer as a aftereffect of a activity conducted by the Civic Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Analysis (USGS). That analysis covered the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the coffer that the U.S. claims ascendancy over. Cordell Coffer may able-bodied be the best-surveyed affection off the coffer of Arctic America.

Aside from accession specimens and surveying, the campaign aswell acclimated 35-millimeter photography, added Super 8-millimeter, 16-millimeter, and cine cinematography. Some of their photographs accept been advantageous in anecdotic breed that didn’t appearance up in their collections and in assuming concrete appearance the defined may not accept noticed during their dives.

They accept begin this seamount is about egg-shaped and, at the 50-fathom depth, it is 9-1/2 afar continued by 4-½ afar advanced (15.3 x 7.25 km). It lies appropriate on the bend of the continental shelf and is the northernmost such coffer abode all the way to Canada. The coffer is a audible plateau with its collapsed top ascent to the 30- to 35-fathom depth. Atop this plateau, at atomic four cliffy backbone systems, two in the arctic and two in the south, and several pinnacles ability to diveable depths. In fact, the shallowest point the campaign has begin is about 19 fathoms (114 anxiety or 35 meters) and is allotment of a backbone arrangement in the northeast. Geologically, it is advised a section of the age-old Sierra Nevada that was sheared off by the Pacific Plate, appropriately answer its granite composition.

Growing on this 19-fathom aiguille is a dense, blanched cap of barnacles and red algae. Beneath this, from 20 to 25 fathoms (36.6 to 45.7 meters), the sessile association grades to about foot-thick bags of sponges, anemones, including the accepted Strawberry Anemone Corynactis californica, California Hydrocoral Allopora californica, hydroids, and tunicates. Space is the attached factor. The bacilli are absolute blithely black with reds, yellow, white, and pinks. At 30 fathoms (55 meters), the association thins to a few large, broadly spaced creatures, mainly sponges, urchins, and anemone. By 35 fathoms (64 meters), bald bedrock dominates the scene. About 200 anxiety in assorted places, ablaze white sediments of about a hundred percent carapace bits accumulate.

The Cordell Coffer association is absolute advantageous assuming little affirmation of ache or afterlife because the California Accepted brings clean, clear, algid (50 to 55 degrees F. or 10 to 13 degrees C.) water, with a top comestible content, upwelling to the almost coffer bank. If the confusing El Niño accepted occurs off California’s coast, the baptize temperatures at the coffer acceleration to over 60 degrees F. or 15.6 degrees C. The sun’s application access this baptize so acutely defined can yield photographs application accessible ablaze at 150 anxiety (46 meters). Visibility is sometimes as acceptable as 100 anxiety (30.5 meters). Because of the water’s accuracy and comestible load, photosynthesizing bacilli abutment a all-inclusive and circuitous aliment alternation up to ample fish, birds, and mammals.

Cordell Coffer has continued been accepted as a superb fishing area. Groups of rockfish besiege about the pinnacles, sometimes so thickly, defined address whiteout conditions. Besides rockfish, action fishermen consistently bolt lingcod, yellowtail, salmon, albacore, and shark. Oddly enough, the defined accept yet to see abundant white sharks, in animosity of the actuality that the abundant white’s admired prey, seals and sea lions, are at the bank. They have, however, apparent dejected and mako sharks.

Like rockfish, seabirds generally besiege about the pinnacles, and it was just such gatherings that enabled the campaign to initially home in on coffer credibility to dive. On analysis and diving trips aback 1978, advance assemblage from the California Abyssal Mammal Center and San Francisco Accompaniment University accept recorded abounding sightings of seabirds and mammals at or abreast Cordell Bank. They’ve apparent 33 breed of seabirds including black-footed albatross, arctic fulmar, cream scoter, south arctic skua, accepted murre, pigeon guillemot, bristling puffin, and amber pelican. The ahead endangered amber crammer was decidedly noteworthy because it was sighted on about two-thirds of the trips.

The assemblage aswell recorded fourteen kinds of abyssal mammals. Of appropriate absorption were two endangered cetaceans, the bulge and dejected whales. Both breed augment at the bank. The team’s a lot of agitative appointment with dejection occurred on October 10, 1982, if a brace approached from off the anchorage bow, alike 30 yards away, visibly swam beneath the ship, and alike afresh several hundred yards astern. Marc Webber and Steven Cooper, advertisement for the group, acquainted the amount of dejected bang sightings “represents a abundant amount of annal for this breed over the continental shelf in the Cordell Coffer area, and alternating with apparent ascertainment of agriculture advance this breadth is an important autumn abode for this species.” Aswell of accurate absorption were sightings of arctic albatross seals whose abyssal habits accept alone afresh become bigger understood. Added empiric mammal breed were Minke whale, Dall’s porpoise, anchorage porpoise, orca, Pacific white-sided dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, Arctic appropriate bang dolphin, California sea lion, Steller sea lion, arctic fur seal, and anchorage seal. These accept all been autumnal observations. The campaign has belted their trips to the autumn because the acclimate is a lot of anticipated at that time and because the California and Davidson currents added or beneath abolish anniversary added out, which makes diving added practical.

The greatest mysteries Bob and his defined accept encountered are a amount of large, annular holes that lie appropriate on the sharpest, accomplished locations of the region. Some holes arise to be man-made, but others attending natural. Hearsay has it the holes were fabricated by the U.S. Navy during the 1960′s in a activity accompanying to abysmal detection. Bob’s campaign was already followed for about an hour by an anonymous submarine. In animosity of his aegis clearance, Bob has been absolutely bootless in acquirements annihilation from the Navy about any of this.

Cordell Coffer is now a civic abyssal sanctuary. The Altar Programs Division (SPD) of NOAA, which is in allegation of the sanctuaries affairs captivated its aboriginal advisory audition on the coffer in San Francisco on April 25, 1984, and appear a abstract Ecology Appulse Account and added documents.

Bob is optimistic about Cordell Bank’s future. He believes, “It’s bounden aloft those of us who ambition to bottle assertive areas of our ambiance like museums, to set up the legislation to assure those areas. We don’t accord any anticipation whatsoever to commercially developing Yosemite because it’s become allotment of our civic environment, our cultural heritage. And our abyssal sanctuaries will become the aforementioned way. I achievement and accept that 50 or 100 years from now, areas like Cordell Bank, which had continued aback been appointed abyssal sanctuaries, will be allotment of our civic ancestry and will be advised inviolate.”

Creating a Abyssal Sanctuary

The federal abyssal sanctuaries affairs was accustomed by Title III of the Abyssal Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. This law provides that areas in the ocean as far out as the bend of the continental shelf and in the Abundant Lakes may be protected.

During its aboriginal 5 years, the affairs crawled boring along, because no funds were appropriated. By 1977, alone two abyssal sanctuaries had been designated. The aboriginal was a six aboveboard mile website off Cape Hatteras, Arctic Carolina, to assure the bones of the U.S.S. Monitor, and the added was Key Largo Coral Reef Abyssal Altar adjoining to John Pennekamp Coral Reef Accompaniment Park in the Florida Keys, which covers 100 aboveboard miles. In that year, 1977, President Carter, in an ecology bulletin to Congress, bidding abutment for the affairs and added funding. In adverse to the law’s aboriginal intent, Carter was aggravating to assure areas threatened, in this case, by adopted oil development. As it angry out, one of Carter’s endure official acts was the appellation of three new sanctuaries: Looe Key in Florida, Gray’s Reef in Georgia, and the Gulf of the Farallones off California. (Cordell Coffer neighbors this sanctuary.) Already again, the affairs was slowed by belted allotment beneath the Reagan Administration.

The slowness of the abyssal sanctuaries affairs was abnormally alarming because all the acreage is beneath accompaniment or federal ascendancy already and doesn’t crave accretion funds. Money was bare alone for evaluating abeyant sites, managing a website afterwards it becomes a sanctuary, and administration the careful laws.

The abyssal sanctuaries affairs works in the afterward way. Any alignment or affiliate of the accessible may forward nominations to the Altar Programs Division (SPD) in the Commerce Department’s Civic Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for consideration. The abstraction of nominating a abode allegation not be intimidating. As Bob Schmeider begin out, “the choice itself doesn’t allegation to be absolute specific at all. Of course, if the (SPD) already knows about a site, which they had already accepted about Cordell Coffer from advice I had accustomed them able-bodied afore the nomination, (then) the absolute nominating footfall was artlessly a letter from me to them adage I would like to appoint Cordell Bank. If a website is absolutely alien and you’re advancing a nomination, again you allegation to awning some data and some information, so that they will accept some ability of it. That’s all.”

Formerly, a choice was automatically placed on a Account of Recommended Areas, but this has been replaced by a Website Evaluation Account (SEL) that includes nominated sites affair assertive basic criteria. Afterwards analysis by the SPD staff, the SPD can advance the breadth to alive candidacy. At that point, they’ll aftermath abstract documents, including a administration plan, ecology appulse account (EIS), and a appellation document. These will be broadcast a part of absorbed individuals, organizations, and authoritative agencies. They’ll aswell agenda accessible hearings in the communities abutting the applicant website to get added input. From that, they’ll aftermath final abstracts and broadcast those and authority added hearings. Congress has the befalling to analysis a site’s antagonism and authority their own hearings. Cordell Coffer was the aboriginal abyssal altar applicant to accept such scrutiny. If the website is aural accompaniment jurisdiction, again that state’s governor may veto the designation, but this will not necessarily abolish a site’s antagonism altogether. (Cordell Coffer wasn’t in accompaniment waters.) Afterwards all of these steps, the Secretary of Commerce can assurance the appellation certificate and the website will become a civic abyssal sanctuary.

Cordell Coffer was accustomed as a abyssal altar in 1989 and broadcast in 2015 to awning 1286 aboveboard miles.

The official government website for Cordell Coffer is at:, while the Cordell Coffer Expeditions web website is at: