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Indo-Pacific Coral Reef Field Guide

Dr. Gerald R. Allen & Roger Steene

1994, Publisher: Tropical Reef Research, Singapore, 378pgs.

Bob Fenner  

Covering the huge expanse of tropical oceans from Hawaii to the islands of French Polynesia westward to the Red Sea and East Africa, the tropical Indo-Pacific is easily the world's richest

biological realm. Here's your big chance to identify (or dream about identifying) the more common near shore marine life you encounter in this expanse. Want to see what 'blue' and 'organ pipe' corals really look like (alive)? Coral/reef keepers will love this book.


This handy volume lives up to it's expressed purpose as a guide book providing ready identification of the most commonly encountered coral reef organisms. All major groups, from marine macrophytes (large algae), true plants, sponges, hard and soft corals & other stinging-celled animals, worms, crustaceans, mollusks, echinoderms, tunicates fishes, sea snakes, turtles, birds, marine mammals and more.

The brief introduction on the basics of reef structure, diversity , conservation, and nuances of human study include a nice piece on dangerous marines; identification, advice on avoidance and treatment are covered. Subsequent chapters are arranged in a typical phylogenetic sequence (except for the crinoids) composed of text generated by an expert source in each biological category. It's great to see even the under-appreciated forams getting a plug.

The volume is finished with two very useful indexes; one for common, the other, scientific names.


The "Guide" is a field size (about 6" by 8") with high quality typesetting on good, acid fast paper. Color reproduction work ranges from medium to quite good. There is a wealth of photographic presentations; some 1,800 (yes, eighteen hundred) color illustrations. If works like this won't convince you to travel, beach comb and take up skin/scuba diving, nothing will. Only found two typos. Page 205 with 3 "l's" in dwelling; and its plesiosaurs, not pleiosaurs, p. 355.

What this Reviewer Particularly Liked:

The clear, descriptive, straight forward explanations of key facts and concepts in non-technical terms. See the elucidation of reef building blocks; a thorough mention of the cumulative roles of other groups of organisms (coralline and green algae, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, foraminiferans, sponges and more) for their roles in reef formation. The many sciences that a work like this must touch on are rife with arcane and confusing terminology. There is an obvious effort to make the text understandable without "dumbing it down".

I also appreciate the notes dissuading the reader from the usual doom and gloom of reef destruction news. All is not dismal; reefs do indeed recover from human and nature's worst. This can occur in as little as 15-20 years.

What I Didn't particularly Care For:

Hope it doesn't sound too picky, but lumping seaweeds and true vascular plants together as 'plants' is to me an unworthy oversimplification. I would have liked a short description/discussion of the differences between algae and embryophytes. Hey, and where's the Zostera?

Also, a few line drawings to accompany the many terms for describing structural parts of the various groups, and some graphical representations showing classification relationships would add great clarity. These would be especially helpful in aiding the uninitiated in distinguishing between and amongst closely related and appearing types... e.g. corals, sea pens, fans; all those "worms". Can you tell a flatworm from a nudibranch from a sea cucumber? On what basis? You get my point.

There is a strong presumption that the reader has already had some exposure to marine Natural History. The abrupt unfamiliar naming of obscure groups and other gobbledy-gook of descriptive science is a real shock to a new-bee. Rog and Gerry would have done well to have different interest and background persons give the book the once over. Think of the good a outline drawing for the Big Ten Fish Families presented on p. 259 would have done.

Conclusive Remarks:

Another winner for the long time Australian friends Dr. Gerald Allen and Roger Steene. Their names should be familiar to aquarists and reef lovers, with several published works to their credit.

This book is a tri-hybrid; a cut and dry field guide w/o keys for identifying common near surface marine life, a coffee-table picture book with nice photos, & a passing attempt at medium level Natural History. At $40.00-50.00 retail for a small paperback it is a little pricey. For the advanced aquarist, appreciator of nature, traveling diver this principally natural history field guide is well worth the cost.

Though there are no stated notes on aquarium use, propagation, et al., there is still much in this book for the earnest aquarist; type habitat examples, identification, and most importantly, outright enjoyment of beautiful life forms photographed and presented systematically. If you scan this book, you will want to have a copy.

Here's a fun little quiz to size yourself up:

1) Coral-eating mollusks                                                                                         A) Foraminifera

2) Corals composed of a single polyp.                                                                     B) Flatworms

3) Studied for medicines to inhibit cancer.                                                                C) Cephalothorax

4) Responsible for about half of oceans sedimentary rock.                                        D) Fungia

5) Included in same group as liver flukes                                                                   E) Soft Corals

6) The head 'section' of crustaceans                                                                          F) Bryozoa

7) Colonial animals often mistaken for Sponges or algae.                                           G) Drupes

8) These ascidians are sometimes called tunicates                                                    . H) Sea Squirts


Answers: 1G, 2D, 3E, 4A, 5B, 6C, 7F, 8H

Get them all? You should have written this book, or at least the review.


Acknowledgment: Thanks to Marty Beals (and partner Dennis) of Tideline, Los Angeles for floating me a copy of this book.


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