DPG is a comprehensive underwater photography website and community for underwater photographers. Learn underwater photography techniques for popular digital cameras and specialized professional underwater equipment (wide angle, macro, super macro, lighting and work flow). Read latest news, explore travel destinations for underwater photography. Galleries of professional and amateur underwater photography including wrecks, coral reefs, undersea creatures, fashion and surfing photography.
Dive Photo Guide


Book Review: “Caribbean Reef Life” by Mickey Charteris
By Gabriel Jensen, June 24, 2024 @ 10:00 AM (EST)

A stunning Caribbean macro subject, the neon goby

As a photo guide and avid critter spotter, I am always on the lookout for resources that enhance my understanding of the critters that make up my underwater neighborhood. “Caribbean Reef Life” by Mickey Charteris is one such treasured resource, and has become the very first book I reach for when attempting to make an identification for myself or another diver. This book is a comprehensive and indispensable field guide that delves deep into the scuba depth relevant biodiversity of the tropical Western Atlantic. The tropical Western Atlantic includes Bermuda, southern Florida, the southern Gulf of Mexico through the Caribbean and along South America's Atlantic coast to Cape Frio in Brazil's state of Rio de Janeiro.

Currently in its expanded fourth edition, this book is much more than a simple “name, range, and picture” identification guide. The book has an intuitive and logical layout to help any interested diver make the connection between animals and their habitats, helping you to spot more critters on your dives.

The cover of Mickey Charteris’s fourth edition of “Caribbean Marine Life


Comprehensive Coverage and Updates

This edition of “Caribbean Reef Life'” introduces over 300 new species, bringing the total number of identified and described reef inhabitants in the region to over 1800, with no doubt many more yet to be discovered. Charteris is currently based in Honduras and is well known as one of the Tropical Western Atlantic’s most active critter spotters. He has meticulously detailed the different life stages, color variations, and growth patterns for many species—this makes the guide an invaluable resource for anyone interested in getting the ID between a juvenile french or gray angelfish just right. This comprehensive coverage extends beyond  fish to include marine plants, sponges, hard corals, octocorals, invertebrates, nudibranchs, marine mammals, and turtles.

Charteris’s obsession with expanding the library of tropical Western Atlantic species is evident throughout the book. He doesn't just list species; he provides context for their existence and interactions within the reef ecosystem. This broader perspective helps readers appreciate the delicate balance and intricate relationships that sustain vibrant underwater communities.

The book even discusses habitat types and the plants and animals and relationships that occur within these environments


Organization and Accessibility

The book is organized in a user-friendly manner, making it an essential companion for any diving trip in the Tropical Western Atlantic. The layout is logical and intuitive, with sections dedicated to different groups of organisms such as algae, corals, and sessile animals. Each entry is detailed and informative, with clear references to related species that divers might encounter in proximity. For example; when describing a particular type of algae or anemone, Charteris often includes notes on the types of animals that might be found nearby, even referencing the page number where you can find the particular critter. Repeating this connection enhances the reader’s ability to recognize and understand the interactions within the ecosystem.

A very small Ercolania viridis, a species keyed in “Caribbean Marine Life”

This attention to detail extends to the visual elements of the book as well. With over 1,800 high-quality photographs and illustrations, readers are equipped with the visual tools needed to accurately identify species in their natural habitats. The images are clear and vibrant, capturing the beauty and diversity of reef life. The addition of color variations and growth patterns for many species is particularly useful, as it helps divers identify organisms that might look different at various stages of their life cycle or in different environmental conditions.

The Pederson cleaner shrimp, a common Caribbean crustacean


Practical Applications

For divers and underwater photographers like myself, “Caribbean Reef Life” is an invaluable tool. The detailed descriptions and high-quality images help divers prepare or daydream about their trips, allowing them to anticipate the species they might encounter and understand their behaviors. The book’s portable format makes it easy to bring along on outings, ensuring that this wealth of information is always at hand. In fact I have one water logged and well worn copy in my dive truck at all times!

In addition to being a practical field guide, "Caribbean Reef Life" also serves as a source of inspiration. The pages remind readers of the incredible diversity and beauty of coral reefs, motivating them to explore and protect these environments. Charteris’s passion for marine life is evident throughout the book, making it an inspiring read for anyone who cares about the ocean.

A typical spread in “Caribbean Marine Life,” this one showing a variety of Caribbean gobies that are often confused for each other. Seeing them all together on a page with clear diagnostics makes identification a breeze


Compared to Other Field Guides 

I am a collector of Tropical Western Atlantic identification books, the rarer and more esoteric the better. I would be remiss to gloss over where “Caribbean Reef Life” fits into a collection of other identification guides. Unlike the stalwart and comprehensive Humann and Deloach’s Reef Fish Identification, this is a single thick tome which makes it a tiny bit easier to bring around in the field. When it comes to my beloved nudibranchs, the bible is “Caribbean Sea Slugs: A Field Guide” by Valdes, Hammon, Behrens, and Dupont. However, at nearly 18 years old, there have been numerous updates and reclassifications which are reflected in “Caribbean Reef Life.” Compared to some of the more casual guides available in dive shops, “Caribbean Reef Life” remains serious and not overtly simplified to be uninteresting for pros.

A spread I had to include here! Nudibranchs and slugs are near and dear to my heart. The Caribbean is home to countless species, a few of the iconic seagoddesses are featured here


Final Thoughts

“Caribbean Reef Life” by Mickey Charteris is a must-have for anyone interested in the biodiversity of coral reefs. Its comprehensive coverage, user-friendly organization, and educational value make it an essential resource for divers, marine biologists, and underwater photographers alike. The current fourth edition’s expanded content and updated information ensure that it remains relevant and useful in the ever-evolving field of marine biology.

Charteris has created more than just a field guide; by highlighting the intricate connections between species and their environments, he encourages readers to appreciate and protect these vital underwater worlds. Whether you are preparing for a dive trip or simply want to find that rare shrimp which lives on an aesthetically pleasing pink sea urchin, “Caribbean Reef Life” is a book that belongs on your shelf. As a divemaster and critter spotter, I can attest to the book's value and the wealth of knowledge it offers.

My own well-worn copy of this fantastic book!


Be the first to add a comment to this article.
You must be logged in to comment.
* indicates required
Travel with us

Featured Photographer