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2010 Cordell Bank Reef Crest Surveys
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History of Cordell Expeditions

By Dale Roberts
Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Cordell Expeditions (CE) is an organization founded in 1977 to explore Cordell Bank. Dr. Robert Schmieder founded the organization out of scientific curiosity and a desire to apply his SCUBA diving skill and critical scientific training to answer the basic question "What is there?" Teams of skilled SCUBA divers were recruited to undertake the task. Much of the funding for the project was provided by the CE team members.

Schmieder's first encounter with Cordell Bank was while studying a NOAA nautical chart. He was drawn to Cordell Bank's shallow 20 fathom (120 feet) contour and realized that it was within the depth range of SCUBA divers. When he asked marine scientists at the California Academy of Sciences and U.C. Berkeley what the biological community was like at Cordell Bank, and none of them knew, he decided to find out for himself.

CE made their first SCUBA dives at Cordell Bank on October 22, 1978 after more than a year of preparation. On that day Dr. Schmieder and his four person team were among the first individuals to actually see Cordell Bank. They were astounded by the texture, color and biological diversity of the reef crest. They immediately realized that Cordell Bank was a submarine jewel worthy of protection.

CE made subsequent annual diving expeditions to Cordell Bank through 1985. They took photographs and collected specimens which were sent to museums around the United States. The group wrote annual reports describing their discoveries and gave public lectures illustrating the beauty and diversity of Cordell Bank.

In 1982 CE petitioned the Sanctuary Program office of NOAA to consider Cordell Bank as a potential marine sanctuary. Robert Schmieder was invited to participate in Congressional hearings and advocated for the designation. Finally, in 1989 president George H. W. Bush signed legislation designating Cordell Bank as the nation's 8th national marine sanctuary.

Bob Schmieder donating his specimen collection to the California Academy of Sciences for permanent archives. Bob Schmieder, with CAS and Sanctuary staff.
Bob Schmieder donating his specimen collection to the California Academy of Sciences for permanent archives. Bob Schmieder, with CAS and Sanctuary staff. (NOAA)
CE developed an impressive collection of biological specimens, photographic images and reports. Their species list contains 350 genera and 446 species. The group documented many range extensions and provided material which led to the description of species new to science. Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary is now working with archivists at the California Academy of Sciences to curate this collection, thus making it perpetually available for future study.

Dr. Schmieder wrote the only book written about Cordell Bank. Ecology of an Underwater Island covers the history, exploration, and biological descriptions of Cordell Bank as they found it in the 1970's and 80's. Learn more about Cordell Expeditions here.

Listen to an interview with Bob Schmieder and Jennifer Stock on Ocean Currents Radio Program on KWMR.

Listen to Oral History interviews with Bob Schmieder.


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