REEF members are the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. A diverse community of divers, snorkelers, and ocean enthusiasts support our mission to conserve marine environments worldwide.

This month we highlight Rocio Bunker. She is originally from La Paz, Mexico, and learned to dive at a young age. Rocio lives now in San Diego, California, where she is a scuba instructor trainer. She loves teaching people to dive and educating them about marine life, and enjoys using underwater videography and social media to encourage ocean conservation. She has been a REEF member since 2019, and has conducted more than 380 surveys in California. She is an Expert Level REEF surveyor in the PAC region, which comprises the Pacific Coast of the US and Canada. We're fortunate to have dedicated and enthusiastic members like Rocio!

How did you first hear about REEF?
One of the local dive shops I used to work at was hosting REEF meetings each month, organized by local member Herb Gruenhagen. The more I talked to him, the more I learned about the ocean creatures I was visiting on dives daily. I was also learning much more than just the species names, because Herb had interesting anecdotes and fun facts about the fish and invertebrates. Everything started making sense - like who eats who, why juveniles are so different from adults, why some species have toxins for protection, etc. I decided then that I wanted to volunteer on every dive to help this program that taught me so much.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I am enthusiastic about giving back and volunteering because I want future generations to learn about ocean creatures and to be curious about their home. The more REEF data there is, the more we can help protect the ocean, and the more people can learn. This is my little grain of sand added to the big pile for posterity.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
So many things! For example, I now know the difference between invasive, exotic, and native species. I live in a place where occasionally we may see fish that typically live in colder waters, and then sometimes we see species that live in warm waters, so understanding this was very valuable for me. I am also able to teach my students about what I learn while doing surveys.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
Everything REEF does is important, from teaching people through education programs, to creating fish ID resources, and providing data for so many scientists and students to be able to use in their research. REEF is a haven for the citizen scientists and biologists around the world. So much is done by volunteers like me and you, so the many hundreds of hours donated to the program are to be cherished, The people that are doing this are truly invested, and are doing a great thing for the ocean.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I am lucky to live near a marine protected area so I can teach and dive there almost year-round. The dive site offers an amazing array of diversity. You could see a migrating gray whale or an Ocean Sunfish, a Popeye Catalufa or a Wolffish - the beauty of it is that it will never be the same dive!

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
My favorite ocean animal is the octopus. In La Jolla we have two species - the Spotted and the Red Ruby Octopus. They are very smart creatures, and some have learned that we mean no harm to them and they actually use our lights to hunt. Sometimes you can observe them in their dens or with prey!

Do you have any surveying, fish watching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Yes! Here are some of my tips: It gets easier if you have the books from your area, so you can look up a sighting that is unusual or difficult. Try to get at least one good picture if you can, and you don’t need a fancy camera, just a good angle and patience. Don’t chase the fish or don’t disturb the marine life, because the more space you give them, the more they will follow their normal behaviors. Do not be afraid to ask for help either - REEF conducts surveys worldwide, and has Facebook groups for each region. You can always post your photos of unknown species and get feedback from the community. Fellow REEF surveyors are always happy to help!

What is your most memorable fish find and why?
Seahorses! Due to an El Nino about six years ago, there were seahorses in the cold water at our local canyons and bays here in southern California. I never thought I’d see one here, much less dozens of them everywhere.

Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
I really want to visit Washington and see a Spiny Lumpsucker and a Giant Pacific Octopus - and I might be able to do it this year, so wish me luck!