Reef Life: A Guide to Tropical Marine Life

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A practical, up-to-date, comprehensive guidebook for divers, naturalists and students, featuring more than 1000 color photographs of 800 species of ocean life.

From tide pools to coral reefs and the open ocean beyond lies a world abounding with an assortment of colorful fish and fascinating creatures. The lure of the life that inhabits the ocean's reefs and open water is no secret to scuba enthusiasts and snorkelers who enjoy the opportunity to gaze upon this wonderful world ...

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A practical, up-to-date, comprehensive guidebook for divers, naturalists and students, featuring more than 1000 color photographs of 800 species of ocean life.

From tide pools to coral reefs and the open ocean beyond lies a world abounding with an assortment of colorful fish and fascinating creatures. The lure of the life that inhabits the ocean's reefs and open water is no secret to scuba enthusiasts and snorkelers who enjoy the opportunity to gaze upon this wonderful world through their dive masks. Reef Life identifies the most-likely encountered underwater life in the tropical marine environment, featuring more than 800 beautiful color photographs that provide the keys to this magnificent world.

A gallery of more than 400 species offers readers an extensive identification guide to the most-likely encountered fishes and features each in detail: name, species, habitat, range and a description particular to the animal covered. With sections on invertebrates and algae, this guide reveals much about the range of animals and plants in the undersea ecosystem. Included is behavioral information on feeding, mimicry, and symbiosis, providing insights into natural survival strategies taking place among animals beneath the ocean surface.

The clear, concise descriptions of the myriad of animals in the tropical oceans are collected in this handy, portable and comprehensive reference for use in the field or at the desk. The surveys of the tropical ocean regions and sea life around the world include:

  • The Caribbean
  • The Hawaiian Islands
  • French Polynesia
  • The Fijian Islands
  • The Philippines and South China Sea
  • Micronesia
  • The
    Indonesian Archipelago
  • Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
  • The Great Barrier Reef
  • Western Thailand and Andaman Sea
  • The Maldives and Western Indian Ocean
  • The Red Sea
  • Tropical Eastern Pacific.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Anyone fascinated by the underwater world will be riveted by the photos in this richly illustrated guide. Cole, a biologist and photographer, has captured incredible shots of underwater coral reefs, sea horses, whales and fish over the course of his 20-year career spent photographing ‘life aquatic' for magazines such as National Geographic, Scientific American and Smithsonian. Readers can lose themselves in the magnificent environment beneath the sea, observing a parrot fish sleeping in its mucus cocoon and a manta ray being cleaned by two remoras as a diver swims nearby. The text, written by Michael, who has worked as a scientific consultant for National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, is aimed at the novice, but it is a comprehensive resource on the many different aquatic species that make their homes in and around the world's reefs. Each listing gives the creature's dimensions, location and specific details about its behavior. For snorkelers or divers who enjoy identifying the underwater life they have seen, this well researched and impeccably documented book will be an invaluable resource. The final chapter focuses on conservation of marine ecosystems, detailing pollution and other problems these ecosystems face, as well as a few success stories. (March) North American Distribution: FireFly Books.
Divernet (Diver Magazine online) - John Bantin
Brandon Cole is one of the world's most accomplished underwater photographers and certainly one of the most prolific.... He has put a collection of his pictures together to form a useful guide to tropical marine life. The text is by Scott Michael, a sometime scientific consultant to National Geographic Explorer and Discovery Channel. Six hundred pages make up a weighty volume measuring 16 x 18cm, and half of that is reproduced in the conventional form of a fish-identification book, with a photograph and details of an example of each species. However, much of this book contains chapters on such issues as parental care in reef fish, schooling and shoaling, venom and poison, and cleaner-fish ecology. It even has an appropriately small section on algae. A major section details the different coral reef communities found around the world... There are chapters on elasmobranches, invertebrates, marine reptiles and marine mammals and all are illustrated, almost without exception, with beautiful pictures by Brandon Cole, although Scott Michael and a few others have filled in the inevitable holes. The text is informative and well sourced without being too wordy.
American Reference Books Annual 2014 - Mark A. Wilson
This colorful, eye-catching title provides the reader with in-depth text on tropical marine ecosystems accompanied by brilliant photography.... The book centers around the coral belt..... Along with information on the marine life in these areas the authors provide users with what they are likely to see while diving in these areas... Useful as an identification guide as well as for those who want to browse the incredible photographs.
Sport Diver Magazine
Identifies hundreds of the most commonly encountered species in tropical marine environments all over the world... Reef Life features more than 1,000 color photographs of 800 species. The ID guide includes the most likely encountered fishes and features name, species, habitat, range and a description particular to the animal covered. Readers will find information on feeding, mimicry and symbiosis. There is also a chapter on conservation.
Library Journal
A tsunami of color photos drowns the eye in this nifty combination of a serious text introducing tropical marine ecosystems and a field guide to hundreds of ray-finned fish, elasmobranchs, marine mammals and reptiles, and dozens of the invertebrates to be found in said ecosystems. Covering the "coral belt" that girds our planet, the essays on mangrove forests, antipredation behaviors, mimic octopuses, and the vagaries of marine sex life among reef dwellers do an admirable job of opening windows into this watery world. There are maps of coral areas from the Maldives to French Polynesia to the Eastern Caribbean Sea, giving divers a paragraph or two of what to expect when planning the vacation of a lifetime. The sections resembling a bird-book (which offer bright color photos) will be helpful in identifying what a diver sees (or photographs), with a text giving basic information on size, location, common names and Latin classification, and interesting tidbits: Cole explains that the masked moray eel, for instance, "regularly bites a hand resting near its hideout" and the yellowtail fangblenny can be "found in the open because of venomous fangs used to bite predators in the mouth if ingested." The book ends with a plea for the conservation of these tropical ecosystems, which are already under severe pressure from human activities and Earth's changing weather systems. The index can be a bit puzzling. There are listings for sea slugs, but lionfish entries are species-specific. And monk seals may be found under seals, monk seals, and Caribbean monk seals. A list of references is included. VERDICT All in all, this hefty book will be sought after by those doing research on coral communities around the world and by those seeking to identify creatures they have glimpsed on dives or hope to see the next time. Useful, eye-catching, and dealing with a topic dear to the hearts of many.—Patricia Manning, formerly with Eastchester P.L., NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781770851900
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 3/19/2013
  • Pages: 616
  • Sales rank: 410,287
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 7.20 (h) x 1.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Brandon Cole is a biologist, wildlife photographer and photojournalist specializing in the marine environment worldwide. His photography has appeared in hundreds of magazines including GEO, National Geographic, Newsweek, Outside, Scientific American and Smithsonian. He lives in Spokane Valley, Washington.

Scott W. Michael is an internationally recognized writer, underwater photographer, and researcher who specializes in elasmobranchs (i.e., sharks, skates and rays) and coral reef fishes. He is the author of Reef Sharks and Rays of the World (1994). A scientific consultant for National Geographic Explorer and the Discovery Channel, he lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Tropical Marine Ecosystems

The Coral Reef

Conditions for Reef Development
Coral Reef Types
Coral Reef Zones
Artificial Reefs
Mangrove Forests

Chapter 2: Coral Reef Communities

Tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean

Hawaiian Islands
French Polynesia
Fiji Islands
Indonesian Archipelago
Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
Great Barrier Reef
Western Thailand and Andaman Sea
Red Sea
Tropical Eastern Pacific
Galapagos Archipelago
Cocos Island
Revillagigedo Islands
Tropical Western Atlantic Ocean
Central Caribbean Sea
Eastern Caribbean Sea
Southern Caribbean Sea
Western Caribbean Sea
Lion Invasion!

Chapter 3: Ray-Finned Fishes

Food Habits

Antipredation Behavior: Staying Off the Menu
Avoiding Detection
Deterring Attackers
Speed and Agility
Venom and Poison
Spines, Armor and Teeth
Schooling and Shoaling
Batesian Mimicry
Mullerian Mimicry

Cleaner Mimics
Mimic Octopuses: Fact or Fiction?
Social Mimicry

Reef Fish and Invertebrates
Cleaner Fishes
Cleaner Categories
What Do Cleaners Eat?
Cleaner Ecology and Behavior
Cleaner Crustaceans
Reef-Fish Sex
Reproductive Strategies
Parental Care in Reef Fishes
Species Identification

Chapter 4: Elasmobranchs

Sharks and Rays
Species Identification

Chapter 5: Invertebrates

Sea Anemones
Stony Corals
Soft Corals
Sea Jellies
Comb Jellies
Polyclad Flatworms and Acoels
Polychaete Worms

Marine Snails
Sea Slugs
Echinoderms: Sea Stars, Sea Urchins and Sea Cucumbers

Chapter 6: Marine Reptiles

Sea Snakes
Sea Turtles
Marine Iguana
Species Identification

Chapter 7: Marine Mammals

Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins
Pinnipeds: Seals and Sea Lions
Sirenians: Manatees and Dugongs
Species Identification

Chapter 8: The Open Ocean

Species Identification

Chapter 9: Conservation of Tropical Marine Ecosystems

Land-Based Pollution

Destructive Fishing Methods

Coral Collection and Mining
Echinoderm Issues
The Big Problems
Some Success Stories
Making a Difference

Photo Credits / Author Bios

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This book presents selected work from a "life aquatic" career spanning twenty years. After earning a bachelor's degree in marine biology from the University of California at Santa Barbara and working as an underwater researcher with the US National Park Service and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, I pursued a PhD for a month, then succumbed to the lure of underwater photography. I left the lab and now spend up to six months each year exploring one of the planet's last frontiers -- the world beneath the waves.

Since I had no formal training in the studio or the darkroom, the transition from scientist to artist was a clumsy one. I admit to making far more miserable pictures than memorable ones, breaking more than one camera, and, even after two decades, still being baffled by the complexity of the craft. It's the critters, large and small, that have kept me going through it all.

In recording the oceans' majesty I have traveled the globe, logging millions of air miles and more than 15,000 hours underwater. I count among my favorite scuba-diving locales the coral reefs of Indonesia, the "Enchanted Isles" of the Galapagos, and the current-swept chilly waters off British Columbia. Paradoxically I live in landlocked Spokane, Washington, with my wife, Melissa, an artist and frequent diving companion.

In the ocean I am continually experiencing new manifestations of the marvelous: the contagious thirst for life shown by a group of frolicking wild dolphins; a kelp forest wrapped in silence, yet noisy with color and motion; the mystery that enshrouds the open ocean or a coral reef under the cover of darkness. For me, Aristotle's "all things" include not only 40-ton breaching whales, schooling sharks and hang glider-sized manta rays; they also consist of the weird little fishes, the camouflaged beasties that hide in plain sight, and the spineless invertebrates -- diminutive shrimps and crabs, sea slugs and jellyfish, artfully arranged clusters of sea anemones, sponges and corals. These creatures and their unfathomable beauty are often overlooked, but they are no less deserving of appreciation and photographic preservation than the charismatic megafauna.

I consider myself most fortunate that my day job allows me to work underwater, witness to the reef's denizens as they go about their daily lives. Though the rush of encountering big animals is undeniable, I'm also happy to spend hours observing the smaller creatures, such as attitudinal 5-centimeter (2-inch) blennies -- frantically active fish whose bulging eyes rotate independently -- and the mimic octopus, a most engaging cephalopod -- a chameleon actor that tries to dupe me with one ingenious disguise after another. I'm sure my laughter at its antics can clearly be heard drifting on the current. Also heard, I hope, is my sincere wish that an appreciation and respect for the wildlife and habitat be foremost in the minds of those who visit the great ocean and those who live along its shores. It's all about enjoying nature -- but not at her expense.

--Brandon Cole, July 2012

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 29, 2013

    Not often does a book hit the market that is ambitious in scope

    Not often does a book hit the market that is ambitious in scope to the point that it is something not seen before. Renowned marine photographer Brandon Cole and Scott Michael have managed to cover the tropical waters of the globe in a single, easily digested volume. It would be a tour de force as either a circumtropical fish ID book or as a marine ecology book. That it has managed to be both is a remarkable accomplishment. If you could have only one book on the fish and ecology of the tropics of the world, Reef Life should certainly be that book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2013

    The photos in this book are phenomenal and there are loads of th

    The photos in this book are phenomenal and there are loads of them! I really like having both identification photos with corresponding maps and stunning full page spreads. There is a lot of information about marine life behavior and coral reefs. I think this is a great book for the whole family and I'll definitely be gifting this book to many of my teacher friends as well as anyone who loves to dive, snorkel...or simply interested in the sea. Great bang for your buck!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2013

    Wow! It's so refreshing to see a new kind of marine life guidebo

    Wow! It's so refreshing to see a new kind of marine life guidebook, one which goes beyond just the basics of small pictures and boring factoids. There's a wealth of gorgeous photos and interesting science information covering a wide range of topics. This book really helps readers understand the coral reef ecosystem.
    Critter Diver

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