Underwater Marin sanctuary teams with life

October 18, 2010 1:12:23 PM PDT
Oceanographers in Marin County are amazed by the latest images they've collected from the Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuary 22 miles west of the Point Reyes Headlands. It had been decades since they last visited the area and the surprises began early and continued all week.

For Dr. Robert Schmeider and this crew the expedition began early in Bodega Bay. These researchers and their equipment were clustered onto a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration boat.

Their destination is the Cordell Bank, an undersea island perched just off the continental shelf. The Cordell Bank is one of 14 national marine sanctuaries in this country. It is a form of underwater national park -- an area untouched and uninfluenced by humans.

In 1981, Schmeider led the effort to document and then protect this place by an act of Congress and his historic images had a lot of influence.

"It's a diverse, dynamic, high energy biological community that is isolated. This is an island," he said.

Today, Dan Howard manages the area for the federal government.

"What we are trying to understand is how the reef has changed over time. You know, this is our first opportunity to get back down there," he said.

Their results exceeded any preconceptions. This time instead of 16 millimeter film, divers like Joe Hoyt took down high speed and high definition cameras. In difficult conditions at 120 feet or so, they show waters teeming and a rock bottom absolutely carpeted with life.

"The color is just so much more vibrant than what you expect. It's beautiful," Hoyt said.

"It's spectacular. All of us are jealous we can't go down there," research coordinator Lisa Atherington said.

The divers did not discover any new species this time, but the California Academy of Sciences will preserve these specimens for generations of study to come.

"It isn't a transition zone between the north and the south, so that may actually lead to organisms that are only found in this area between the north and the south," Dr. Bob Van Syoc from the California Academy of Sciences said.

In short, it's all about building a data base observing today for future comparisons.

"With this new imaging we see the community is thriving, it's very healthy and very clean. It's a great relief," Schmeider said.

With so much food in so small of a place, they know a good thing when they find it.


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