Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary


Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary is an extremely productive marine environment off the coast of northern California, west of Marin and Sonoma Counties. Located about 52 miles west-northwest of San Francisco, the sanctuary is entirely offshore, with the eastern boundary about seven miles from shore and the western boundary about 51 miles offshore. The sanctuary was designated in 1989 to protect and preserve the extraordinary marine ecosystem surrounding the Cordell Bank. In 2015, the sanctuary was expanded north and west to include additional waters and submerged lands, including Bodega Canyon. Cordell Bank is an undersea granite and rocky reef about four-and-a-half miles by nine-and-a-half miles, located 23 miles west of the Point Reyes Lighthouse. It 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. Bodega Canyon is a prominent seafloor feature that cuts across the continental slope and into the shelf north of Cordell Bank. The canyon is about 10 miles north of Cordell Bank, and is about 12.4 miles long and over 5,200 feet deep.

Cordell Bank is located in the California Current upwelling system, which is associated with one of the four major eastern boundary currents of the world. Coastal upwelling initiates an annual productivity cycle that supports a rich resident biological community as well as migratory populations of sea turtles, fishes, seabirds and whales that travel thousands of miles to feed around the bank. It's the combination of a healthy benthic community on the bank in close proximity to offshore, open water species that contributes to the unique biological diversity in a relatively confined area around Cordell Bank. Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary comprises a diversity of habitats that harbor rich marine communities. Ocean processes, physical habitat and depth greatly influence the composition and distribution of species that inhabit the benthic and pelagic environments.

Through partnerships with state and federal agencies, and academic and research institutions, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary seeks out the broader scientific community to ensure that the most effective and rigorous science can be attained. Our goal is to create sound scientific information available for resource management, monitoring, interpretation, education, planning, and policy needs.

Cordell Bank sanctuary is entirely offshore and contains an abundance of marine life, including humpback whales. Photo: Jennifer Stock/CBNMS

The centerpiece of the sanctuary is Cordell Bank, a prominent geological feature that is composed of a variety of habitats that harbor a diversity of species. Photo: Cordell Expeditions
The logistics of conducting research at Cordell Bank sanctuary can often be challenging, given the distance from shore, rough ocean conditions, complex habitat types, and depths. These factors make it necessary for researchers to use a wide variety of vessels, tools, and technology to explore, monitor, research, and manage this ocean environment.

Site characterization studies provide information on the biodiversity, habitats and resources that define the sanctuary. Projects focusing on site characterization within Cordell Bank sanctuary include benthic habitat mapping, assessment of benthic communities associated with various habitats, and a biogeographic summary to describe the distribution and relative abundance of the coastal biota and associated habitat. Large regions of the sanctuary, such as the deep-sea environments, are still poorly understood.

Sanctuary monitoring programs assess the status and condition of marine life and habitats over time. Several key monitoring programs within Cordell Bank sanctuary have helped scientists to describe changes in the oceanic environment and pelagic and benthic communities. For example, Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS) is a joint research and monitoring program formed by Point Blue Conservation Science, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and now includes additional partners. ACCESS members jointly conduct integrated, collaborative, and multi-disciplinary research to monitor distribution, abundance and demography of marine wildlife in the context of underlying physical oceanographic processes and inform managers, policy-makers and conservation partners about wildlife responses to changes in ocean conditions and human threats to mobilize public support for marine conservation. Previously, the Cordell Bank Ocean Monitoring Program (Cordell Bank Ocean Monitoring Program (CBOMP)) collected information, from 2004 to 2010, on the spatial and temporal variability in the oceanographic system of the Cordell Bank region. Data were collected on seabird, marine mammal and other vertebrate abundance and distribution as well as oceanographic conditions to understand seasonal and annual changes in the pelagic environment. Also, the Cordell Bank oceanographic buoy was a collaborative project between Bodega Marine Laboratory and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary from Spring 2007 - Summer 2013, part of the National Marine Sanctuary Program's West Coast Observation project as well as a contributor to the Central California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS). This buoy provided important information on local and regional conditions by collecting data on salinity, temperature, fluorescence of chlorophyll-a, turbidity, wind speed and direction, and water current speed and direction.

Research projects illuminate the natural and anthropogenic processes and relationships which affect sanctuary resources. One such project, ACCESS, examines the relationship between oceanographic conditions, krill, and krill predators (seabirds and marine mammals) and how these patterns change seasonally and between years. The non-profit organization Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge worked cooperatively with Cordell Bank sanctuary to understand movement and habitat-use patterns of Black-footed Albatrosses that travel from Hawaii to feed in the food-rich waters of the sanctuary.

The Sanctuary may provide coordination and logistical support, vessel support and limited funding for research projects addressing priority needs. Research activities may require a permit from the Sanctuary. For general information on research being conducted within the sanctuary, please contact the Cordell Bank National Marine Research Coordinator, Danielle Lipski ( For information on permitting within Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, please contact the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary permit coordinator, Lilli Ferguson (

CB MapMap of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and surrounding area prior to the 2015 expansion.
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