California Expansion

With their recent expansion, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary now cover more than 4500 square miles of ocean off the coast of California -- more than double the area that was initially protected! Check out our video to learn why that's so important. 


I can't think of anything more important right now in today's world than to let people know the importance of areas like this in the oceans. We do have incredible resources here and people realize that and understand the need to protect it. We have so many different perspectives gathered around this common purpose of making the sanctuary as good as it can be. I'm fortunate enough to wake up and hear the waves. That's pretty much what gets me up in the morning. To protect that place that I love.

In March of 2015, the White House approved the expansion of two of California's four National Marine Sanctuaries. Adding more than 2,000 square miles to what is now the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary And almost 800 square miles to Cordell Bank Sanctuary. And so if you look right out there, this is your National Marine Sanctuary.

The expansion was in response to the voices and actions of local communites that called for better protection of the ocean environment along their coast. It was a long journey. Here is how it happened.

San Francisco during the 1960s and 70s was one of the epicenters of the modern environmental movement. After a series of disasters along the California coast dramatically revealed the need for ocean protection, citizens demanded for special ocean places to be set aside as National Marine Sanctuaries. One of the first surrounded the rugged Farallone islands protecting the largest seabird breeding ground in the contiguous United States.

36 kinds of marine mammals, a multitude of fishes, including the infamous great white shark and shipwrecks that continue to teach about America's cultural history and seagoing heritage. Not much was known about Cordell Bank until the late 1970s When a group of intrepid technical divers was exploring just north of the Gulf of the Farallones Sanctuary. The divers splash into the ocean.

Known as Cordell expeditions, the group documented an underwater oasis of marine life the likes of which had rarely been seen. A number of smaller specimens would be great.

Led by local diver Bob Schmieder, the group made yearly expeditions to the bank, sharing their findings with the scientific community and the public. He and the other divers say is so worthy of federal protection. In 1989, Cordell Bank, this unique offshore treasure, was established under NOAA as a National Marine Sanctuary. As more was learned about sanctuary ecosystems, it was discovered that the source of nutrients that fed the vibrance and abundance of life at Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farralones was located farther north, beyond existing Sanctuary boundaries.

To protect Sanctuary ecosystems, it would be necessary to protect the source of their strength to the north. This section of the California coast is so special because it has a unique upwelling feature. The water comes from the deep up to the surface and when the sunlight hits it, it blooms and that rich plankton water is carried down the coast and it feeds a plethora of marine wildlife.

One of the things that most people never even think about but of course people in the environmental field think about all the time the ocean is absorbing much of the carbon dioxide that's being emitted on land and that is one of the big messages the oceans are changing, the oceans are effected by what we are doing.

Starting in 2004, Congress Lynn Woolsey, a passionate advocate for the coast responded by submitting legislation year after year to expand both sanctuaries. Actually, it was in my heart. You don't have to tell the people of this district how important the oceans This is a place that you can come to and very quickly the worries of the world kind of drop away and there's a kind of inspiration that people get from this place that can't really be put into words The protections of the ocean, of this food source, of this wonderful coastline is going to be a great tourism draw.

When sanctuaries come to communities they become part of the communities. We work together. It really becomes a partnership between the communities and the sanctuary. In 2015, after eight years of unsuccessful attempts to expand the sanctuaries by an act of Congress and two more years of a sanctuary-driven campaign of public outreach and community input the Administration acknowledged the demand to expand the sanctuaries of Cordell Bank and the Greater Farallones.

I mean, I can sit here and feel all wonderful about what I've done. This is not Lynn Woolsey, this is all of us. In the course of bringing businesses, average citizens, and local governments together to achieve permanent protection for this coast we've proven that democracy works. Permanent means permanent commitment to keeping it protected. And making sure the right decisions are made. So this is going to be a community based, ongoing management project to keep it the way it is.