Sanctuary News

2017 Projects and Plans for 2018

In 2017, funding from the Cordell Marine Sanctuary Foundation, in partnership with the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, supported several important research and education projects, including:

  • Detailed photographic surveys of Cordell Bank using an Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV).  Thanks to grant funding from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, administered by CMSF, the ROV cameras and lights were upgraded to capture high definition imagery which will improve our ability to identify species in the sanctuary and will provide citizens and students a clearer view of the exceptional biodiversity protected by the sanctuary.

  • Whale tagging research to track Blue whales as they move about in the Sanctuary waters.  Scientists hope that learning more about the movements of these largest of all animals will help protect them from killer ship strikes.

blue whale

  • Deployment and retrieval of two oxygen sensors.  Low oxygen, or hypoxia, can have severe impacts on marine wildlife. This work, part of an ongoing collaboration between Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the U.C. Davis Bodega Marine Lab, will improve our understanding of how climate change is affecting life in the sea.
  • Educational projects to share with students, teachers, and the general public the wonders and value of Cordell Bank NMS and the abundant sea life that depends on its protection.
  • Direct financial support for San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival, including cash prizes for the Student film competition.  With our support, the Festival invited students to free screenings of the inspirational ocean-themed films and a special Ocean Education program.
  • A student internship was created for the CBNMS to help the sanctuary with social media educational outreach. The internship supported a marine science graduate student with a stipend, gave him the opportunity to hone his marine science communication skills, and helped the sanctuary connect with its constituents.


We plan to support continuing research of the ocean conditions that surround Cordell Bank. Hypoxia (low oxygen concentrations ) is being monitored cooperatively by the Sanctuary Foundation and Bodega Marine Laboratory scientists. Similar studies will continue on ocean acidification, and the effects each of the conditions have on the marine life of the Bank and surrounding waters. Both phenomena may be linked closely to worldwide climate change, and represent vital elements in a critical search for understanding of, and solutions to, the challenges we face with the future of our world’s oceans and life forms.

Additionally, support is being sought to expand our education and awareness programs to a broader audience, in schools and in the public sector. Presently, preliminary discussions are in progress with a prominent international film company to produce a media presentation of the natural history and research programs associated with Cordell Bank and the adjacent pelagic realm.

Urge Congress to Support Our Sanctuaries!

Just as our National Parks protect natural treasures on land, the Marine Sanctuary system allows for protection of vital aquatic resources.  These ocean and Great Lake regions are biologically unique, hold historic significance, and offer vistas of incomparable physical beauty.  Please contact your Representative in Congress and your Senators today and urge them to fully fund the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.  Tell them you oppose the development for oil and gas and other minerals in these fragile areas.  We wouldn’t think of allowing oil drilling in Yosemite or Yellowstone National Parks.  Let’s act now to protect our National Marine Sanctuaries!  Our representatives in congress need to hear from us!  Thank you for taking action!

Life on Cordell Bank Surveyed via ROV Imagery

Photos and video taken during ROV transect surveys of Cordell Bank form the basis of a new report from NOAA scientists.  The animals and plants living attached to the surface of the Cordell Bank are identified in this first ever quantitative visual census of benthic marine life.  The good news from the report chronicles vibrantly healthy populations of corals, sponges, sea stars and other marine life.  Scientists have so far been stumped by the mysterious brown and green crusts covering some areas of the Bank.  Work for 2017 includes plans to physically sample these mystery crusts, along with some other unidentified organisms.   Click here to read the report.

Cordell Bank NMS Listening to Shipping and Whales in 2 year study

The Cordell Bank NMS research coordinator Danielle Lipski and colleagues have deployed an acoustic recording device in the Sanctuary waters as part of a two year study on ocean noise.  The CBNMS placement is 1 of 11 in the seas around North America and Hawaii, including the Gulf of Mexico and arctic Alaska.  Global shipping generates noises from engines and propellers.  Whales and other ocean-dwelling animals create sounds as well that may be used to identify them.  There is some concern that human noise may obscure natural sounds and disturb or confuse ocean life.  The acoustic listening devices will record sound continuously for two years when they will be recovered and the sounds studied by Sanctuary scientists and their colleagues.  Details on the mooring deployment are in this article published by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Studies of pelagic ecosystem getting underway at Cordell Bank

Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary (CBNMS) scientists will begin this week the 12th year of sampling the pelagic and nearshore ecosystem as part of Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS), a joint project with Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and Point Blue Conservation Science.   Cordell Marine Sanctuary Foundation has provided funding support for ACCESS for many years and continues to support this important project.  On board the sanctuary research vessel Fulmar, scientists will collect data to assess the health of the marine ecosystem and provide information to resource managers, including the abundance and distribution of baleen whales in relation to shipping lanes to inform attempts to reduce vessel strikes to whales. Specifically, they will collect seabird and marine mammal data, oceanographic measurements, and sample for prey availability along predetermined transect lines.  The first research mission starts on May 23 and will last 6 days with two more missions planned for July and September.  You can follow their progress by clicking here.

Hypoxia Monitoring Moorings Deployed at Cordell Bank

Matt Robart, Oceanographer at Bodega Marine Lab, and Danielle Lipski, CBNMS Research Coordinator, deploy one of the moorings at Cordell Bank.  Photo: CBNMS

Matt Robart, Oceanographer at Bodega Marine Lab, and Danielle Lipski, CBNMS Research Coordinator, deploy one of the moorings at Cordell Bank.  Photo: CBNMS

Two moorings outfitted with oceanographic instruments are again positioned at Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary (CBNMS) for the second year in a row after CBNMS staff worked with Bodega Marine Lab scientists to re-deploy the moorings on May 19, 2015 for the spring through fall seasons.  Cordell Marine Sanctuary Foundation again provided funding to CBNMS for the project this year and Danielle Lipski, CBNMS Research Coordinator, worked with Dr. John Largier and Matt Robart at Bodega Marine Lab (BML) to build and instrument the moorings.   Low oxygen water naturally occurs in the deep ocean but intrusions of hypoxic (meaning “low oxygen”) water has been found in more shallow waters along the US west coast in recent years.   Low dissolved oxygen levels had been recorded along the north central California coast for the first time in 2013 by BML and in 2014 CBNMS and BML worked together to place sensors at Cordell Bank to learn if low oxygen water was present at the bank.  The bank is inhabited by a vibrant invertebrate and rockfish community which could be vulnerable to hypoxic conditions.  Results from 2014 showed that hypoxic or near-hypoxic conditions were recorded at the buoys for about two weeks in June and July following strong winds and upwelling conditions.

Matt Robart, Oceanographer at Bodega Marine Lab, and Danielle Lipski, CBNMS Research Coordinator, make final preparations to deploy the moorings while KTVU news team looks on. 

Matt Robart, Oceanographer at Bodega Marine Lab, and Danielle Lipski, CBNMS Research Coordinator, make final preparations to deploy the moorings while KTVU news team looks on. 

Watch the KTVU news video about hypoxia, featuring the deployment of the buoys at Cordell Bank!  

Final plan for North Coast marine sanctuary expansion expected soon

March 6, 2015

A dispute with the Coast Guard that for more than a month has stalled expansion plans for adjoining marine sanctuaries off the California coast appears to be resolved, paving the way for publication of the final regulatory proposal.

North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman said Thursday he thought it would be a matter of days before publication of the final rule appeared in the Federal Register, a step that would mark a landmark moment for a federal plan in the works for more than two years and a proposal envisioned far earlier than that by supporters, including former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

“We’re all very excited to hear the final word when it comes,” said Huffman, D-San Rafael, speaking frankly about the potential risk of substantial delays had the Coast Guard persisted in its demands for regulatory exemptions in the sanctuaries. “This is going to be wonderful news for the North Coast and certainly for Congresswoman Woolsey and others who have worked many years on this.”

The plan to expand the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries would extend federal protections to coastal waters from Bodega Head to southern Mendocino County, putting an additional 2,769 square miles of ocean off-limits to energy and mineral extraction and more than doubling the combined size of the sanctuaries.

It would safeguard productive habitat fed by the nutrient-rich upwelling off Point Arena, and because the southern border of the Farallones sanctuary abuts the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, it would ensure federal stewardship along 350 miles of coastline from Cambria to Manchester Beach.

The proposal, unveiled in December 2012 by President Barack Obama after years of legislative effort failed to garner sufficient backing in Congress, has strong support along the North Coast and in Washington, according to officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It was expected to be published in late January.

But officials said the proposal was held up for weeks by demands from top Coast Guard brass who sought the same exemptions already included in the expansion language for the Navy and other branches of the military that fall under the Department of Defense.

The Coast Guard, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, is not covered by the DOD provisions, which in essence waive sanctuary rules for ongoing activities deemed essential to the nation’s defense. Authorization for any new activities would follow consultation between the two agencies.

The Coast Guard also is concerned about retaining the ability to use some small vessels in its fleet that cannot store wastewater, and thus would be at risk of violating sanctuary rules on effluent discharge.

The agency, which would be tasked with enforcement within the sanctuary, also feared its training and exercises could be restricted, according to people familiar with the discussions in Washington.

Huffman said the Coast Guard’s concern was “reasonable,” but called it “unfair to raise it at the eleventh hour in a long review process.”

He also noted that the Coast Guard and NOAA sanctuary administrators have a track record of cooperation, and said an agreement now in place to work out a process of Coast Guard activities in all marine sanctuaries will cover the agency’s needs.

Huffman and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, were among five members of Congress from Central and Northern California coastal districts who last week called on the White House Office of Management and Budget to conclude negotiations and finalize the rule, citing an earlier, similar plea by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

“Ultimately, I’m glad to see that the Coast Guard stood down,” Huffman said.

Once published in the Federal Register, the final step in the expansion is a 45-day review period in which Congress or Gov. Jerry Brown could still raise objections, though sanctuary and NOAA officials have downplayed the likelihood of any impediment that would prevent the plan from going into effect.

Thompson, who was not available for an interview, said in writing that he was pleased “to hear that this expansion should be moving forward very soon.”

“When it happens, communities along our coast will see big benefits in the form of increased tourism dollars and a healthy ocean,” Thompson said in a written statement. “Once this expansion is completed, we will continue working toward our long-term goal of an integrated sanctuary system that protects our nation’s marine resources.”

New coral species discovered off Sonoma Coast

SAN FRANCISCO — Scientists have discovered a new species of deep-sea coral in underwater canyons off the Sonoma Coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced.

A NOAA research team using small submersibles found the coral in September, the agency said Wednesday.

The coral from the genus Leptogorgia was discovered about 600 feet deep in the first intensive exploration of underwater canyons near the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries.

Collecting data on the 4-inch-long white and red coral will help scientists determine the ecological importance of deep sea communities in the area and the threats they face, said the Farallones sanctuary’s superintendent, Maria Brown.

“Deep-sea corals and sponges provide valuable refuge for fish and other marina life,” Brown said. “Effective management of these ecosystems requires science-based information on their condition.”

Before the research expedition two months ago, scientists knew little about the marine life in the area, NOAA said.

After multiple dives in the area, researchers also found a “highly unusual” nursery area for catsharks.

“This is a highly unusual nursery because rarely, if ever, are shark nurseries in the same area as skate nurseries,” said Peter Etnoyer, a deep-sea biologist at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

Submarine canyons often extend from the continental shelf to the deep sea, and exploring them can be difficult.

The research team that made the discoveries conducted video surveys of areas that had been only documented through sonar imaging.