Designated: May 24, 1989
Expanded: June 9, 2015
Area: 1,286 mi²
Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary is an extremely productive marine area off the west coast of United States in northern California, just west of the Gulf of the Farallones. With its southernmost boundary located 42 miles north of San Francisco, the sanctuary is entirely offshore, with the eastern boundary six miles from shore and the western boundary 30 miles offshore. In total, the sanctuary protects an area of 1,286 square miles.
The centerpiece of the sanctuary is Cordell Bank, a four-and-a-half mile by nine-and-a-half mile rocky undersea feature located 22 miles west of the Point Reyes headlands. The bank sits at the edge of the continental shelf and rises abruptly from the soft sediments of the shelf to within 115 feet of the ocean surface. The combination of ocean conditions and undersea topography creates a rich and diverse marine community in the sanctuary. The prevailing California Current flows southward along the coast, and the annual upwelling of nutrient-rich deep ocean water supports the sanctuary’s rich biological community of fishes, invertebrates, marine mammals and seabirds.
Off the northern California coast, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary is one of the system’s newest expansion success stories. In 2015, the sanctuary more than doubled its boundaries to conserve its extraordinary marine ecosystem. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s involvement in the expansion spanned nearly 10 years and reached from the community to Capitol Hill. Our efforts included engaging local groups, empowering them to connect with Congress and the Administration, and representing their priorities to policymakers.
Cordell Bank’s ocean upwelling conditions and undersea topography creates a diverse marine community for whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, 180 species of fish, 70 bird species, and thousands of invertebrates. From June to November, visitors see humpback and blue whales feeding close to shore and from late summer into fall head offshore for more seabird and marine mammal viewing opportunities.
Scientific research and monitoring are ongoing at the Sanctuary. Among those projects, the Foundation funded a major dive expedition that returned to Cordell Bank’s remote coral reefs after a 30-year hiatus to assess its conditions. The fact that the reefs were well-preserved after three decades is a testament to the importance of sanctuaries and their work.