If you’re wanting to improve your knowledge of sea life, there are a few books I would recommend for your personal library. At the end I offer some more travel-friendly, portable options!
This is the most common book you’ll find in most dive shops. It’s comprehensive with great tips for identification. Simply put, this is the best source for “all” fish. It is worth reminding the buyer that there are a lot of different fish species out there. For some, you will need more specific books – a book just on sharks and ray, a book on blennies, and so on.
This is a Western Australian Museum publication, so if Amazon won’t give you a good price, look at buying it direct from CSIRO ($35AUD). This is a book of of drawings, not of photographs of marine life. Some people prefer the clarity that these have, and this book does come highly recommended. Personally, I prefer photographs, but I cannot let this book go without a mention. Gerald Allen is one of the same authors as Reef Fish Identification above.
If you would like to read the book online before buying, Google Books has made the Field Guide of Marine Fishes available.
Published by CSIRO in Australia and was a collaborative project between the United States, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.
Not in Asia?
Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. Baja to Panama. Galapagos. West coast of North America.
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Everything except fish
This is an easy book to recommend – it covers such a wide variety of life. However, it is unable to go into the breadth that a dedicated species book can. If you were to limit yourself to two books to handle your identification needs, Reef Fish and Reef Creatures would fill it marvelously.
Reef Creatures Identification covers worms, molluscs (including cephalopods), arthropods (crustacea) and echinoderms (sea stars and urchins).
Not in Asia?
Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas.
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Fish and Creatures
If you want both Reef Fish Identification and Reef Creature Identification, but don’t want two separate books, Asia Pacific Reef Guide by Helmut Debelius is the best option. It may lack the depth that a more dedicated book has, but for the starting diver or the smaller dive shop, this can be a great option.
One of the newer books (2013), is colourful and easy to read.
This book is not as good as the Asia Pacific Reef Guide, and it too suffers from trying to cover too many creatures. However, it is far from a poor choice, and has some great sections on coral as well.
This is the best source for Nudibranch identification, with this second edition published posthumously for Neville Coleman.
It covers more than just nudibranchs, also the rest of the related families – sap sucking slugs, side gill slugs, headshield slugs, sea hares, pleurobranchs and so on.
One bothersome difference between the first and second editions is that they have removed all common names in this second edition. Bring a pen. That’s what I did.
By the same publishers who gave us Reef Fish and Reef Creature Identification, some of the most popular identification books we use.
A book that’s easy to use and reference.
A very thorough book with plenty of clear photographs, descriptions and gender differences.
Cephalopods: a World Guide by Mark Norman is unfortunately out of print, but a great find if you can locate a copy. I would not recommend paying $600USD for one though – but if you need it, copies are out there.
Travelling with books can be difficult, but there are a few portable options!
Plastic slates with pictures of common marine life can be great to take on a dive, or to handle while still wet, just out of the water. These can often be found in your local dive shop, which can be handy for one specific to your area, if you can’t find one online.
The common “Reef Fish Identification, Tropical Pacific” book has a portable, water resistant version!
As above, but for Florida, the Caribbean and the Bahamas.
The same small water-proof book, but for all things that are not fish.