New deep-sea coral species discovered in Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

By Katie Jewett and Justin Holl

May 2019

an orange octocoral
The description and name of the new species of small, yellow octocoral is based on this specimen or “holotype” of C. cordellbankensis. Click the image for a larger version. Photo: Gary Williams © California Academy of Sciences

Dozens of deep-sea corals thrive off the California coast, but many are still unknown to science. Scientists recently described a new species of deep-sea coral in Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The small, yellow octocoral has been named Chromoplexaura cordellbankensis for its discovery on Cordell Bank, a 26-square-mile rocky, underwater feature located 50 miles northwest of San Francisco.

Researchers Dr. Gary Williams of the California Academy of Sciences and Danielle Lipski of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary collected a small branch of the yellow deep-sea coral from Cordell Bank during an expedition in the summer of 2018. Scientists on board the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to collect the individual specimen. Dr. Williams formally described the new coral species with co-author Dr. Odalisca Breedy from the University of Costa Rica. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences on May 15, 2019.

rockfish near newly discovered coral
Can you spot the C. cordellbankensis coral colonies to the right side of the rockfish? This photo was taken at a depth of 282 feet (86 meters) at Cortes Bank. Click the image for a larger version. Photo: NOAA.

After its discovery on Cordell Bank, the same species was found in other waters, including both Channel Islands and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries. Much of the ocean is unexplored and undescribed, especially at depth. Deep-sea exploration and surveys provide crucial biodiversity data to support the protection of fragile underwater rocky habitat. Thanks to the precision of ROV technology, collection for scientific study is non-destructive to the surrounding habitat and has a minimal impact on the species population overall.

noaa ship bell m. shimada
The NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada provided the research platform for the discovery of the new species of coral using a remotely operated vehicle equipped with lights, cameras, and a manipulator arm for collecting specimens. Click the image for a larger version. Photo: NOAA

National marine sanctuaries protect America’s ocean and Great Lakes treasures and are home to many thriving habitats. Underwater exploration and new species discoveries help resource managers better understand and protect what lives in these special environments.

The California Academy of Sciences and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries are longtime partners in research and exploration. The Academy serves as the repository for all scientific material collected in national marine sanctuaries along the Central California coast.

Cordell Bank supports lush communities of invertebrates. Video: NOAA/MARE

Follow along!

In October of 2019, Dr. Gary Williams and Danielle Lipski will be back at sea aboard the E/V Nautilus exploring deep-sea canyons and coral reefs in Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones national marine sanctuaries. ROV dives will be live-streaming on

Funding and in kind contributions were provided by NOAA's Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and Marine Applied Research and Exploration. In addition to personnel from Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and California Academy of Science, the expedition was supported by personnel from Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the National Center for Coastal Ocean Science, the NOAA Office of Coast Survey, Marine Applied Research and Exploration, U.S. Geological Survey, Greater Farallones Association, and Marine Conservation Institute.

Katie Jewett is a science writer at the California Academy of Sciences where she loves learning something new every day about our planet. Justin Holl is the acting education and outreach coordinator for Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the visitor center manager for Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.