As a lover of the ocean, Rocio Bunker runs along the bay and ocean with her eyes cast toward her beloved water looking for small fish, rays, shells, and shore birds. On New Year’s Day, all she could see was the enormous amount of marine debris washed up on the rocks, and she sprang into action. Rocio posted her clean-up efforts to her Instagram story and tagged Emerald Keepers. Hers was the first social media post I read on New Year’s Day.
“When I see a lot of trash I can’t continue running. I have to stop and do something. I feel responsible,” Rocio explained. “I see other people walking along with their coffee looking down at the water too. I know they see it. Maybe they are thinking, ‘I don’t have time,’ or ‘I don’t want to get wet.’ It would be easy for me to think the same, but I can’t. I want the ocean to be healthy. I would be insulting all the creatures that live there – the fish, sea mammals, and the birds. It is their home, and it is my home too.”
Rocio reminded me that the migration of the Grey Whale is taking place off our coast. “They are our species. Too many people are oblivious to the risk to the whales brought on by the products they choose and their habits. Their eyes are on top of the water – not below the water. My mission is to help people see underwater. People only protect what they know.”
Originally from La Paz, Mexico, Rocio first fell in love with the ocean as a diver with “The Cortez Club.” She is currently the Chief Instructor with Ocean Enterprises Dive Team where she trains dive professionals. She was a pioneer with PADI, an organization that certifies divers, helping produce educational materials and social media content to promote diving and ocean awareness.
Today, Rocio is one of approximately 50 PADI Ambassadivers worldwide who share their love of diving and the ocean to teach and help people connect with their local waters. Rocio dives almost every day at La Jolla Shores with her sea friends – the many fish, crabs, octopus, nudibranchs, sharks, dolphins, seals, sea lions, and turtles.
Rocio stresses buoyancy control when diving—the ability to maintain a steady depth. Without excellent buoyancy control, divers bump along the bottom destroying fragile reefs and ecosystems. She encourages her students to pick up trash and tuck it securely in their buoyancy compensator (diving equivalent of a lifejacket) pocket. She spends hours teaching them to identify and understand ocean’s creatures and their individual purposes. She explained, “Everything is connected. We need to protect sea life, and that means protecting the waters they inhabit. It is also important to vote for laws that protect the ocean.”
Last year, Rocio snorkeled from Tidelands beach to the Marriott pier. Recalling the day as an “amazing experience,” she went on to say, “I saw two seahorses, stingrays, snails making a beautiful basket of eggs, little wentletraps snails that look so delicate like a wedding dress — so tiny and fragile. There were so many fish, lots of seagrass, and scallops swimming among the grasses. I saw sea anemones munching on bits of algae. The sea life in the bay is amazing and beautiful… yet you never see people snorkeling there. If people feel it’s dirty, then they need to make changes. You don’t want to miss the beauty of the bay.”
Just this month, Rocio was recognized as a Level 5 Reef Surveyor by reef.org—the highest level. To receive this prestigious distinction, she catalogued over 200 species and conducted over 100 surveys while diving. There are only three Level 5 Surveyors on the west coast. Rocio’s underwater photography is as beautify as it is captivating.
Thank you, Rocio, for your selfless efforts and leading by example to make 2021 a year in which people step up and make a greater effort to be Emerald Keepers. Your spirit and dedication exemplify that it is everyone’s responsibility to care for our oceans. Congratulations to 2021’s first Emerald Keeper of the Month!