History of the Sanctuary
Coastal California has a rich history of native Americans and early settlers utilizing the marine
environment. For millions of years, Cordell Bank was an unknown mystery hidden beneath the waves.
Nearshore food resources were so plentiful that there was no reason for the native Miwok Indians
to venture miles offshore.
In the late 1800s there was a strong incentive to survey the coast of California to promote safer
maritime commerce. Cordell Bank was discovered in 1853 by George Davidson of the U.S. Coast Survey
while returning from a mapping expedition on California's north coast.
Edward Cordell, an accomplished surveyor, conducted additional surveys in 1869 when he was sent to
relocate a "shoal west of Point Reyes." Cordell was attracted to the location by the numerous birds
and marine mammals. To measure the depth, Cordell lowered a lead weight over the edge until it hit
bottom and then measured the line on its return to the surface.
Regarding historic maritime heritage resources in the sanctuary, records indicate the ex-USS Stewart is about 39 miles west of Point Reyes. The vessel was a United States Navy destroyer that was captured during World War II and commissioned into the Japanese Navy in 1946 as Patrol Boat 102. Recaptured at the end of the war, Stewart was recommissioned into the U.S. Navy in 1945; later scuttled in Bodega Canyon.
Not much was known about what life existed on the bank, though always considered a productive fishing area, until 1977.
SANCTUARY PIONEERS: Interviews with the Original Explorers of Cordell Bank: an oral history
Cordell Bank was first explored underwater in 1977 by a non-profit research association,
Over the next 10 years, divers documented the organisms living on and above the bank.
Through these efforts, images of the biological diversity of Cordell Bank were available to the
public for the first time. This effort was instrumental in creating Cordell Bank National Marine
Explore Cordell Expeditions underwater photographs..