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Book Review:

Marine Atlas, Vol. 1

(The joint aquarium care of invertebrates and tropical fishes)

Helmut Debelius & Hans A. Baensch

Mergus - Verlag GmbH Hans A. Baensch, 49302 Melle, Germany

Translated and revised by Gero W. Fischer & Shellie E. Borrer

ISBN 1-56465-113-4, v. 1: hardcover, 1216 p. 12 X 18 cm.

USA Distribution:

Tetra Sales, 3001 Commerce St. Blacksburg, VA 24060

Bob Fenner  

Continuing in the excellent tradition of the previous three volume freshwater Aquarium Atlas, Garden Pond, and Fossil fishes series, this is the first of three volumes (have mercy) to be issued by Hans Baensch and MERGUS Publishers. It is a monumental undertaking, attempting to be all things to all marine aquarists; of some twelve hundred pages rife with strong and weak points and glaring omissions.

Due to these shortcomings and the proposition of having to purchase three bulky tomes to get coverage of most marine livestock groups, I suspect this work will unfortunately not meet with much commercial success in the west.

The Good:

One of the contributing authors, W.A. Tomey of the Netherlands presents the most thorough treatise on the genus Caulerpa I've ever seen; replete with it's own exhaustive bibliography.

Wouldn't you encourage an aspiring marine aquarist to start with a freshwater system first? And then to cut their teeth on a fish-only set-up before going on to invertebrates? Good, so do the authors here.

Baensch and I are dead-on in agreement on the usefulness of protein skimmers; but this book goes on in great detail regarding "trends" and theoretical filtration "realms"... Do you think that all marine systems must have a pH controller with CO2 infusion, provisions for nitrate removal, KH and phosphate test kits? This book's authors do.


The Marine Atlas unfortunately continues a trend of poor transliterations from the German; there are frustratingly many mis-spellings, syntax and colloquialism problems. The information and advice offered is sound, given that you know the subject and have some idea of what the writers are getting at. If not, the reader will be lost.

Physically, I have a real gripe with this series of "Atlases" by MERGUS. Who decided on the size of these volumes? At 12 by 18 cm. (about 5 by 7 inches) these books are too cumbersome to handle easily. At some 1,200 pages each, would it have been that much more/less expensive to issue these things in a larger format? Ridiculous.

This book is a difficult read physically and editorially. The world of indented paragraphs and readable letter fonts optimally spaced seems lost on the publisher.

Imagine if you were to write an outline of a basic to involved text on the marine aquarium hobby; both hardware and livestock. What would you include and leave out? Now, allow me to throw in a few qualifiers; the book can be more than a thousand pages, with a virtually unlimited budget for graphics and tables... Pretty overwhelming isn't it? Guess what's missing in this, the first volume? Such notable groups as the marine angelfishes, butterflyfishes, damselfishes, morays and all other true eels, lionfishes, seahorses... I assume they and many missing fish and invertebrate groups (only the crustaceans and anthozoans are presented here) will show up in volumes 2 and 3.

And as regards hardware, why is there no mention of high and very high output fluorescent lighting systems, or non-European fluorescent lamps? Though the authors go out of their way to say they intend no slighting or promotion of one line over another, there is incessant endorsement for certain businesses. More generic "plugging" would be better. How much better if the ingredients rather than product names of the many stated medications and foods were listed so that non-German readers might use the information to their advantage.

Where do you stand on the issue of purposefully employing anaerobic denitrating (nitrate removing) filters? Are they necessary? This volume states that nitrate poisoning is over-rated, but does endorse denitrators; mainly commercial "out of tank" products versus NNR or Jaubert modalities. By the by, have you ever seen a picture or nitrifying bacteria? There's a neat scanning electron micrograph of them on p. 79.


On several points, this book and my opinions are diametrically opposed. They suggest that sea cucumbers (Paracucumaria tricolor) is "especialy suitable for beginners". NO! These darn things virtually dissolve if/when disturbed, wiping out the entire tank.

Most gill parasites are worms, not crustaceans as stated, and the item on p. 209 is an isopod, not a copepod; anthozoans are not strictly marine (what about Hydra?), the California(!?) arrow crab on p. 640, we don't have one.

To be more positive, the use of pH manipulation/equalizing in acclimating livestock I am in total agreement; in fact the Acclimation and Catching sections alone are worth the purchase and reading of this book, by hobbyists and dealers alike. Yes, all fishes and invertebrates should be moved underwater, that is, without lifting into the air.

The "Host Anemones For Clownfishes" is great at identifying to the genus and species those organisms that really do associate symbiotically.


Three principal "corrections" would greatly improve this Atlas: 1) Re-do it production-wise to make it user-friendly, 2) Translate it into English with western-available hardware (e.g. this book only promotes glass aquaria) and livestock, and most importantly, 3) Shrink all the proposed volume-series down into one "standard" work. Tetra, the USA distributor for these books, did this for their superb Aquariology series, combining the Fish Anatomy, Physiology, and Nutrition, Fish Breeding and Genetics, and Fish Diseases and Water Chemistry into one master volume titled The Science of Fish Health Management. If the Marine Atlas were to be slimmed down by condensing useful topics and livestock groups, eliminating obscure to un-useful ones it would be far stronger.


Obviously the authors have a passionate interest in the marine aquarium hobby and a desire to impart their knowledge and experience in words; but this work falls short of that potential in being murky, incomplete and poorly organized.

Brand names for gear, foods and medicants might as well be "pixie dust" for all the good their mention does in the U.S..

I do send a copy of my "raw" and published reviews to the publisher, author(s), and providing source as a thank-you and encouragement in improving future works for editing... This Atlas will be far better in re-writes and condensations.

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