By Joe Tepper
As the staple series for reef identification, you would be hard pressed to find a liveaboard or major dive operation in the western hemisphere that doesn't carry a copy of the marine ID books by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach.
With the much-awaited release of the latest in the series, “Reef Creature Identification: Tropical Pacific,” Humann and Deloach have departed the more familiar invertebrates of the Caribbean, and embarked into the wonderfully weird critter-filled waters of the Coral Triangle.
Describing over 1600 invertebrates of the tropical pacific, with nearly 2000 photographs for identification, the book approaches the highest level of comprehensiveness possible, given the number of un-named and undiscovered species in these rich seas. At 500 pages, the contents of the book are divided by invertebrate phyla and are listed in a handy, quick reference index tab: 60 common names for worms, arthropods, molluscs, and echinoderms.
Each section is further subdivided by family and class, and includes a biological introduction for each of these subphylum. The section that concerns the phylum Molusca is perhaps the most informative and useful section for anyone who spends even a day diving the tropical pacific; although the introduction and identification of Gastropoda (snails), Cephalopods (cuttlefish, squid, and octopuses), and Bivalves (clams) are comprehensive, it is the focus on Nudibranchs -nearly one-hundred pages and 250 identified species- that will likely have the dedicated underwater photographer most excited.
The quality and quantity of scientific writing is certainly equal or surpasses the other books in the series: over 40 marine biologists were consulted to provide the necessary scientific depth, while last 30 pages of the book are dedicated to specific critter symbiosis and behavior. The most enlightening of these behaviors -at least for someone who has never had the opportunity to see this animal in real life- is the description of the Wonderpus Octopus, which features multiple photographs and descriptions of this sneaky cephalopod.
However, the hesitant buyer should not be intimidated by plethora of scientific input, as the quality of the featured photography is worth recognizing in its own rights. Unlike previous books in the series, the authors seem to have taken advantage of the digital age and the ability to review pictures underwater, producing images that are suitable for identification, while also setting a higher bar of aesthetic prowess for fish identification books to come.
In this way, “Reef Creatures Identification: Tropical Pacific” is as suitable for the professional marine researcher as it is for a young enthusiast of the ocean. Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from this book is not found in the splash of colorful photographs or in the binomial nomenclature of some obscure Nudibranch, but in the species that remain titled as “undescribed.” In the words of the authors, this guide “is only the latest step, a thin scratch into the veneer of what needs to be known.” It is as comprehensive of a guide as it is a reminder of how much is left to be discovered.
“Reef Creatures Identification: Tropical Pacific” is available for the very reasonable price of $48.00 from www.fishid.com, www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com and local dive retailers. For more information call (904) 737-6558.