Cordell Bank
Farallon Islands
Images of Cordell Bank
Exploration of Cordell Bank

 Graphic Credit NOAA

Cordell Bank lies 20 miles west of Point Reyes headlands and northwest of the Farallon Islands.

Cordell Bank
Exploration of Cordell Bank
National Marine Sanctuary

                                         Cordell Bank is bathed in nutrient rich water and it is one of the most productive places  

                                                along the California Coast. It is a community of every color in the rainbow and the 

                                                                     productivity is so high organisms compete for living space.

Cordell Bank
Exploration of Cordell Bank
National Marine Sanctuary
rock fish

    We were often greeted by an abundance of juvenile rock fish as we reached the tops of pinnacles. 

Exploration of Cordell Bank

welcome to cordell bank
Exploration of Cordell Bank
Cordell Bank
National Marine Sanctuary

                                                                                  Welcome Sign From The Sacramento Dive Team

Cordell Bank is an underwater seamount that lies 50 miles northwest of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. Its shallowest depth is 120 feet. Prior to 1978, the biological makeup of Cordell Bank was unknown to the general public and the scientific community. It was a hidden gem off the California Coast waiting to be explored and described. 

In 1977 Dr. Robert Schmieder sent out a call for divers to explore Cordell Bank, and Cordell Expeditions, a nonprofit research organization, was created. 

Cordell Expeditions was founded on the premise that the exploration of Cordell Bank would be scientific in nature.

Because I was an advanced SCUBA diver, underwater photographer, had a keen interest in the marine environment and had studied Marine Technology, I immediately volunteered.


After more than one year of preparation, expedition divers made the first dives on Cordell Bank on October 20, 1978.

Divers reported Cordell Bank as amazing, rich, colorful, diverse, and “never seen anything like it.”

Over the ten years of the expedition, depth soundings were taken for mapping and to find potential dive sites. Many dives were made, samples of the biota were collected, samples of the granitic substrate and sediment were collected and numerous photographs taken. 

Some live biological samples were sent to various scientific institutions, and the remainder were sorted and preserved for later studies and distribution. 

All expedition activities were documented and annual reports written.

As we acquired information, we did several public presentations and slowly the public became aware of Cordell Bank and its extraordinary beauty, productivity and biodiversity.

Local TV station Channel 7 produced and aired a segment on Cordell Bank, and magazines and newspapers ran articles.

All our data, samples and photographs were made available to scientific institutions including California Academy of Sciences, UC Berkeley, Bodega Marine Lab, USGS, and others.


Due to the success of the expedition and the commitment of its members to bring Cordell Bank’s uniqueness to public awareness, it was nominated for National Marine Sanctuary status. It was designated a National Marine Sanctuary by an act of Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on May 24, 1989.

My Role In The Expedition


                       Me when horse collar buoyancy compensators 

                       and  Subsea strobes were the state of the art 


                                                Photo credit Bill Kruse   

                               Me on Cordell Bank with three cameras


As an underwater photographer my objective was to capture on film a representative sample of the flora and fauna that would help describe Cordell Bank. 

Diving depth ranged from 120 feet to 160 feet. Since our dives were on compressed air, our bottom time was limited to approximately 15 minutes and required decompression stops according to the Navy Dive Tables.

Because our bottom time was so short,  I used three Nikonos II 35 mm film cameras on a single bracket to make a greater number of exposures possible. One camera used a close-up lens to capture individual organisms, the second camera with a wide angle lens captured the individual and its surrounding community; the third camera captured available light landscapes. 

All of my cameras settings were pre-set (point and shoot) eliminating extra time needed to change camera settings between each exposure. This simplified technique was a wise choice. It maximized the number of exposures I could take in a short bottom time, and eliminated any incorrect camera settings I might have made while under the possible effects of nitrogen narcosis. 

Over the ten years of the expedition I made 17 dives on Cordell Bank.

It is particularly gratifying  to have been part of the expedition that played a crucial role in Cordell Bank becoming the 8th National Marine Sanctuary. 

Please feel free to browse through my images and experience the lush, colorful diversity of Cordell Bank.


                                       Click on the thumbnail image for captions 


     Please check out some of the people who volunteered a significant 

                  amount of time to the exploration of Cordell Bank. 

                               They participated in many activities including:

  • Meetings covering strategies and safety 
  • Practices dives
  • Collection of marine organisms, granitic substrate and  sediment samples 
  •  Photo documentation both underwater and topside 
  •  Countless hours of surveys
  •  Surface support
  •  Sorting specimens
  •  Production of multimedia presentations for public viewing
  •  Fabrication of specialized equipment 

The commitment of these volunteers  played a major role in the success of the exploration of Cordell Bank, and in it becoming the 8th National Marine Sanctuary. 

                                                                     Job well done