Hidden No More: Experience Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary in NOAA’s New Virtual Reality Film

September 20, 2023 Written by Jordan Gorostiza Photo by Joe Hoyt/NOAA

Just offshore of Marin and Sonoma counties lies one of our nation’s most unique marine environments. Cordell Bank, an elevated portion of the seafloor on the very edge of the continental shelf, rises to within 115 feet of the ocean surface and provides a variety of habitats to a stunning diversity of fish and invertebrates. 

Sponges, corals, and anemones congregate on the bank’s upper reefs in a dazzling display of color that one might more closely associate with tropic waters. Juvenile rockfish find sanctuary amongst the bank’s boulders while ocean sunfish soar overhead. Blue and humpback whales feed in the rich waters near the surface. 

The bank is the centerpiece of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which protects 1,286 square miles of some of the most productive ocean waters found anywhere in the world. While the sanctuary protects these waters for current and future generations of Americans, the bank’s deep depths and remote offshore location mean that few of us will ever have the opportunity to visit ourselves. 

However, modern technology is allowing us to experience Cordell Bank like never before – from the comfort of our homes. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has released “Explore the Blue: 360° Cordell Bank Adventure,” an immersive virtual reality film that places viewers in the waters surrounding Cordell Bank. Viewers can take control of their adventure and look around in all directions to experience the rich world of the sanctuary.

Jennifer Stock, longtime educator with Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, said the film helps people care about a place that most will never visit or see. 

“Viewing this film in a virtual reality headset allows people to feel like they are underwater and surrounded by colorful marine life off our coast,” Stock said. “It is a thrill for me to see our local communities be completely surprised and in awe when they discover the colorful array of marine life in their ocean backyard. My hope is that it motivates viewers to share their experience and to take action to take better care of our ocean.” 

The film joins the Sanctuaries 360°: Explore the Blue video series. This collection of virtual underwater experiences allows users to experience our nation’s most prized underwater jewels protected as National Marine Sanctuaries. The Cordell Bank film and the other Sanctuaries 360° films can be viewed online, or downloaded and played in a virtual reality headset.

Dive in and learn more about Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary.