Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
2009 Condition Report

Photo of yellow coral

Response to Pressures

This section describes current or proposed responses to pressures on the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is responsible for protecting sanctuary resources and facilitating multiple uses within the sanctuary that are compatible with resource protection. Prohibitions are established through federal and state laws, authority granted in the National Marine Sanctuary Act, and each site's designation document and site specific regulations.


Management of commercial and recreational fisheries in California state waters (0-3 nautical miles from shore) is primarily the responsibility of the California Department of Fish and Game. The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) and NOAA Fisheries manage fisheries in federal waters (3 to 200 nautical miles from shore). Although the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary is located entirely in federal waters, the authority for management of some commercial and recreational species found within the sanctuary is shared between the state and federal agencies. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries does not manage specific fisheries, but it does have a mandate to protect the sanctuary ecosystem and the authority to manage human uses that may affect sanctuary resources. The sanctuary works closely with the Pacific Fisheries Management Council and NOAA Fisheries to address issues related to fishing impacts.

Sharing Boundaries
The Pacific Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional councils established by Congress, and manages the fisheries in federal waters off California, Oregon, and Washington. The council is composed of federal and state fishery management officials and industry representatives and has oversight on developing, monitoring, and revising fishery management plans for each fishery within the U. S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

Photo of Bodega Harbor
Figure 41. Bodega Harbor is the closest port to Cordell Bank sanctuary, and is used by both commercial and recreational fishermen. (Photo: Steve Howell, CBNMS)

Fishing closures in the vicinity of the Cordell Bank sanctuary include both Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCA) and Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) conservation areas (see Figure 23, in pressures section). All EFH conservation area closures were put in place in 2006, while RCA closures varied in their initial implementation date, ranging between 2002 and 2005. These closures were implemented under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. They are subject to periodic review and it is possible that these protections could be removed at some point in the future by a PFMC action. Representatives from the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries are members of the EFH Review Committee that evaluates proposals to modify EFH designations, areas, or gear types.

The Cordell Bank Final Management Plan includes five action plans that will guide sanctuary management for the next five years. “Ecosystem Protection” is one of the action plans. This action plan was developed jointly with a variety of stakeholders including, local fishermen, biologists, enforcement personnel and conservation partners, and addresses the potential impacts from human activities. To better understand and allow for fishing activities that are compatible with sanctuary goals and ecosystem health. The action plan includes, but is not limited to, the following strategies:

  • Improve communication between sanctuary staff and the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the California Fish and Game Commission by establishing consistent and coordinated region-wide sanctuary representation at the Pacific Fisheries Management Council and Fish and Game Commission meetings.
  • Establish an ongoing process to track and evaluate activities and their impacts in and around sanctuary waters.
  • Develop policy recommendations or management action(s) to address impacts from activities on sanctuary resources.
  • Work with Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries to support the Pacific Fisheries Management Council and NOAA Fisheries action to prohibit the commercial harvest of krill.
  • Profile fishing activities and communities in and around the sanctuary to better understand levels of impacts specific to Cordell Bank sanctuary.

The Cordell Bank Final Management Plan is a revision of the original management plan, developed when the sanctuary was designated in 1989, and is focused on how best to understand and protect the sanctuary’s resources. The National Marine Sanctuary Program updated the management plans for Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries in what is known as the Joint Management Plan Review. Management plans are sanctuary-specific planning and management documents required by law for all national marine sanctuaries. These plans describe regulations, boundaries, resource protection, research, and education programs to guide future management activities. They specify how sanctuaries can continue to conserve, protect, and enhance their nationally significant living and cultural resources.

Photo of habitats on reef crests
Figure 42.Sensitive habitats on the reef crest of Cordell Bank. Prominent invertebrates found in these habitats include California hydrocoral (Stylaster californicus), strawberry anemone (Corynactis californica), and various sponges. Several rockfish species, such as this rosy rockfish (Sebastes rosaceus), are associated with these upper pinnacles of Cordell Bank. (Photo: Rick Starr, CBNMS)

Cordell Bank sanctuary is working cooperatively with NOAA Fisheries law enforcement to increase enforcement of regulations that prohibit fishing activity in certain zones within the sanctuary. Methods of enforcement include a vessel monitoring system (More information can be foundhere) and aerial over flights in conjunction with United States Coast Guard.

Cordell Bank and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries contracted Ecotrust, a nonprofit organization, to collect, compile and analyze socioeconomic information pertaining to commercial and recreational fisheries in the area in support of the management plan review process (Figure 41). Their report, “Socioeconomic Profile of Fishing Activities and Communities Associated with the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries” has been completed and is available to the public at on the Ecotrust Web site (Scholz et al. 2005).

Cordell Bank sanctuary staff will continue monitoring fish and invertebrate assemblages in relation to the fine-scale habitat on and adjacent to Cordell Bank to assess changes in distribution and abundance of prominent taxa (Figures 42, 43).

Photo of manned submersible
Figure 43. Surveying the underwater ecosystem of Cordell Bank requires marine technology such as manned submersibles due to the extreme depths and strong currents within the offshore environment. (Photo: Kip Evans)

Monitoring work will also identify locations and severity of anthropogenic impacts, including derelict gear and other marine debris. In addition, the sanctuary management plan has made it a priority to assess the role of Cordell Bank in the supply and receipt of fish larvae within the regional marine ecosystem. Research activities linking population genetics and oceanography would broaden our understanding of the Cordell Bank fish community and the connections with regional populations.

Vessel Traffic

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries regulations prohibit discharge or deposits by vessels within the sanctuary or from beyond sanctuary boundaries if the substance or material discharged enters the sanctuary and injures a sanctuary resource (exceptions are: fish, chumming materials, or bait produced and discarded during routine fishing activities; engine exhaust; and water and biodegradable effluent incidental to vessel operations, e.g., deck wash down and gray water, but excluding oily bilge wastes). A new regulation specific to cruise ships prohibits discharge of any kind (except engine and generator cooling water and anchor wash).

In addition, a new partnership between the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the U.S. Coast Guard is helping sanctuary staff study potential impacts of vessel traffic in the Cordell Bank sanctuary. The U.S. Coast Guard provided software that is allowing staff to track real-time movements of all large ships carrying Automatic Identification Systems (AIS). Understanding vessel traffic patterns is important in documenting potential threats to sanctuary marine life. The information is already proving valuable as scientists used traffic data to determine the most appropriate placement of an oceanographic buoy that was installed in the spring of 2007. The sanctuary has also responded to the threat of wildlife disturbance by establishing education programs aimed to reduce potential negative impacts from wildlife viewing activities.


One of the priority activities identified in the Cordell Bank sanctuary management plan is to assess the impacts from acoustics on sanctuary resources. This effort would involve working with partners to develop programs to conduct passive acoustic monitoring to identify and quantify sources of anthropogenic noise to better understand the effects of sound in the marine environment. Another activity included in the revised management plan is the development of a compatibility index to rank and evaluate types and levels of impacts from human activities.


Cordell Bank sanctuary is working jointly with Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary to develop a long-term climate change site scenario for the sanctuary. The primary purpose of this document is to gather and synthesize existing information on the main climate change impact drivers and the potential impacts to ecosystems, heritage/cultural resources, and communities relevant to the sanctuary. This document is the precursor and companion to a Climate Change Action Plan that will identify priority actions for the sanctuary to take to help address the impacts of climate change specific to the site, its communities, and the region. The site-specific climate change summary document and Climate Change Action Plan will be developed for all sites in the National Marine Sanctuary System.

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries recognizes that our knowledge of the drivers and impacts of climate change is constantly growing and that some problems will be present at too large of a scale for Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to tackle alone. Although there may never be a complete suite of information to manage a protected area for climate change impacts, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has mandated responsibilities for protecting sanctuary resources. Ameliorating existing local and regional stressors and increasing the resilience of local and regional resources will be a most effective management response to climate change. We must therefore be proactive; the price-monetary and otherwise-of being reactive is too high. It is therefore the intent of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, using the best available science, expertise, tools, and authorities, to manage our sites to minimize, alleviate, and otherwise adapt to the impacts of climate change on sanctuary resources.

Marine Debris

bird perched on marine debris
Figure 44. Floating marine debris is surveyed monthly to determine patterns of type, abundance, and seasonality. (Photo: Peter Pyle, CBNMS)

The Cordell Bank sanctuary draft management plan outlines activities to assess impacts from marine debris on sanctuary resources and conduct mitigation activities. One such activity is to develop protocols to monitor pelagic marine debris and incorporate those into monthly monitoring activities (Figure 44). With support from NOAA's Marine Debris Program, sanctuary staff have developed protocols for monitoring the presence of floating debris and have integrated this data collection as part of its monthly monitoring program that tracks the abundance of seabirds and mammals in the sanctuary. This new information is important to understand the source of debris observed in the sanctuary and to identify threats that exist for the animals living in the sanctuary. The monitoring program provides information that helps managers make decisions that safeguard sanctuary resources.

Another activity outlined as a priority in the management plan is to expand Geographic Information System (GIS) databases to characterize benthic marine debris in the sanctuary. The Cordell Bank sanctuary staff is planning to work with partners to expand databases to track and characterize the type, location and amounts of marine debris in the region. Data include observations collected during benthic monitoring using submersible transects and video footage as well as observations collected during habitat mapping and characterization research activities within the sanctuary.

In 2006, researchers completed high-resolution, bathymetric mapping of Cordell Bank that will enhance future research, monitoring and restoration efforts. This was a cooperative effort with the Seafloor Mapping Laboratory at California State University Monterey Bay. The benthic maps have already been used to help sanctuary staff plan the removal of derelict fishing gear on the bank and to understand the relationship between the occurrence of derelict gear and seafloor habitat characteristics. In 2008, sanctuary staff tested methods to remove entangled fishing gear from these deep water habitats using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and have written up recommendations for procedures for deep water gear removal. 

graph of hourly locations of albatross that were tagged
Figure 45. Hourly locations of 18 albatross that were tagged in Cordell Bank sanctuary and then tracked in 2004 and 2005. Black rectangles represent the approximate extent of the Eastern Garbage Patch. Blue lines represent the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundaries; pink lines represent the boundaries of the three northern California National Marine Sanctuaries. (Source: Keiper et al. 2006)
photo of Students learning about marine debris
Figure 46. Students learning about marine debris through dissection of albatross boluses. (Photo: Jennifer Stock, CBNMS)

Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary staff work on various outreach activities educating the public about the impacts of marine debris on the ocean environment, with emphasis on the ingestion of plastics by seabirds. The sanctuary provides teachers with resources to educate students about the diets of seabirds and the global problem of marine debris in the ocean. One educational tool used by sanctuary staff is the tracking data from Black-footed albatrosses tagged within Cordell Bank sanctuary, which can be examined to determine the potential consequences of albatrosses spending time in the 'Eastern Garbage Patch' (Figure 45). Staff members also collaborate with educators in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and local marine education organizations to provide albatross boluses for students to dissect and quantify plastic pieces versus organic prey items (Figure 46). In 2008, the sanctuary embarked on a new collaborative exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California, where environmental issues such as marine debris will be highlighted.

Non-indigenous Species

Additional sampling is necessary to determine the status of non-indigenous species, particularly related to the concern regarding the invasive tunicate Didemnum sp. that has been observed in nearby coastal areas. Future surveys and collections of potential invasive species on Cordell Bank may be incorporated into current benthic community transect surveys. Scientists at University of California-Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory have compiled a list of potential non-native species for the sanctuary based on data from nearshore areas north and south of Cordell Bank.

Researchers need to establish baseline information and monitor for new invasions to rapidly evaluate the most feasible and efficient methods of eradication, containment, or management of existing and future introduced species. It is necessary to identify the pathways by which new species are introduced into the sanctuary, and prioritize which pathways pose the greatest threat to sanctuary resources. This type of information is critical to minimizing the impact of introduced species and to implementing the protection of species and habitats threatened by introductions.

In the revised Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary management plan, a new regulation was established that prohibits the introduction or release of an introduced species from within or into the sanctuary. The exception to this regulation is the release of non-indigenous fishes caught while recreational or commercial fishing.