Coral Reef Animals of the Indo-Pacific: Animal life from Africa to Hawai'i exclusive of the vertebrates

by Terrence M. Gosliner, David W. Behrens and Gary C. Williams. Sea Challengers, Monterey, California, 1996. 8"x10" format. Softcover. 320 pages, 1150 color photographs. $45.00
If you love sea life in all its sci-fi shapes and Technicolor glory, you'll want Coral Reef Animals of the Tropical Indo-Pacific under your tree this Christmas. And if the cold of December is getting you down, you'll feel cozy and relaxed just looking at the warm, sunlit scenes that abound among the superb underwater photos from reefs all over the tropical Indo-Pacific. The wealth of life in this region, estimated at five to ten times the marine species of the Caribbean, will keep you happily occupied as an armchair traveler, or until you can take that tropical Pacific dive trip you've always dreamed of.

Covering sponges to shrimp, snails to sea squirts, this attractive, well-bound, durable field guide to the I-P's common reef invertebrates is strictly a scientific work, cooperatively authored by three experts in the field. Terrence Gosliner and Gary C. Williams are both curators of invertebrates at the California Academy of Sciences. Dr. Gosliner is an authority on opisthobranch mollusks who spoke before the 1995 COA convention in San Diego, and Dr. Williams is a specialist in octocorals. David W. Behrens, a Research Associate at the Academy, specializes in nudibranchs. Added to the formidable body of knowledge they represent is the expertise of many other authorities they have consulted. (See the Acknowledgments and the extensive list of References.) It is probably the most accurate field guide in the genre, considering its authors' combined expertise, and it provides coverage of ecological interrelationships, reproduction, diet, and behavior, as well as interspecific associations.

The photos, one for each of 1,150 species covered, are superb, showing in excellent clarity and color the characteristics important for the identification of the animals they picture. The photography of some 52 divers is represented here. Names of well known divers will be familiar to many of us, David Mulliner, Mike Severns and Bob Yin, among them. The body of the book is devoted to the species. Each of the invertebrate groups covered opens with a general introduction to the biology, ecology, major divisions, and peculiarities and difficulties associated with that group. The photographs follow, alongside Individual Species Identifications, with attention to Identification, Natural History and Distribution.

While the Species Identifications are the most colorful and attractive section of the book, the Introduction is excellent too. A detailed discussion of coral reef communities and habitats, coral biology and formation and distribution of coral reefs bring Darwin up to date. There are also excellent sections on classification and taxonomy and on how to use the book.

A Glossary of perhaps-unfamiliar terminology -- know coelom? chelipeda? -- for groups we are less familiar with is very helpful, as is a list of Recent Geographic Name Changes: heard of Myanmar, Lakshadweep or Chuuk? -- probably not. There is a quick-reference map to the Indo-Pacific islands and archipelagos, and inside the front cover is a quick-recognition picture index key to all major groups of animals included.

This guide does not pretend to be complete -- when we realize that about 600 species of nudibranchs have been identified from a single bay in Papua New Guinea, we realize the utter impossibility of that task -- but for the diver, the sheller, the biologist, the photographer, or the aquarist, this book is a must-have for recognizing and appreciating the common species that inhabit the upper 50 feet of the Indo-Pacific coral reef communities.