Want to learn more about the species you observed or photographed underwater? The identification guides are true treasures for those curious to know about the undersea world!
These books display, with pictures or drawings, the species of certain environments (such as coral reefs) or certain regions of the world (such as the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, or the Red Sea).
If some guides are limited to fish, others describe all the local underwater fauna and flora. True scientific works, the identification guides are also a beautiful way to prepare for our future snorkeling explorations!
There is a wide variety of identification guides, and several parameters must be taken into account when making a choice:
We have several identification guides at home to help us identify the species we see. The book we use the most is Lieske & Myers Coral Reef Fishes, which has the advantage of presenting more than 2000 species of reef fish from the Indo-Pacific, Red Sea, and Caribbean (with drawings only).
With this book sold for around 30$, you’ll get 80% of the snorkeling destinations in the world covered. It is our bible, which we take with us on each of our trips. If you prefer photo guides, we would recommend the excellent Reef Fish ID Florida Caribbean Bahamas (for the Western Atlantic) and Reef Fish ID Tropical Pacific (for the Pacific Ocean, ranging from Thailand to French Polynesia).
In addition to these guides, we also have in our library some books covering more specific destinations. For the Mediterranean, Patrick Louisy’s Marine Fish Identification Guide – Europe & Mediterranean is our reference. We also have the Reef Fish ID Baja to Panama for the East Pacific fish, the Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia (as most Pacific Ocean books only display coral fish reefs, not the fish of temperate regions of Australia such as New South Wales), and the must-have Wildlife of the Galápagos to identify the unique species of the archipelago.
Here is a small selection of guides for identifying fish and underwater life for snorkelers. For each book, you’ll find the geographical area, the species covered, and the type of illustration (photos or drawings).
Geographical area: Coral reefs of the world (Red Sea, tropical Indo-Pacific and Caribbean)
The most compact reference for identifying fish from coral reefs around the world. This guide describes with drawings over 2000 species of fish from the Caribbean, Red Sea and Indo-Pacific (excluding the Eastern Pacific). Only lack: this book has not been edited since 2002, and may not display new nomenclatures or recently discovered species.
Geographical area: Florida, Bahamas and Caribbean
No doubt about it, here is the best Caribbean fish identification guide, with detailed info and lots of photos. The different phases of certain species (juvenile, adult, terminal stage, etc.) are particularly well illustrated. Caribbean snorkeling lovers, you will love it!
Geographical area: Tropical Indo-Pacific, from Thailand to Tahiti
This popular field guide contains the most current and comprehensive information available about marine fishes ranging from Thailand to Tahiti. This new edition includes 2,000 species with 2,500 photographs of fishes in their natural habitat. Multiple photographs for many species show variations in color and markings, life cycle phases and gender.
Geographical area: Hawaiian Islands
A guide specifically dedicated to Hawaii’s reef fishes. It contains underwater photographs and informative descriptions of over 240 species, including classification, evolution, and best locations to spot them around the islands. Very good and useful guide if you are living in Hawaii or plan to visit!
Geographical area: Red Sea and Gulf of Aden
Species: fish, corals, jellyfish, nudibranch, sea urchins, sea stars, sea turtles
A snorkeling trip in the Red Sea planned soon? This guide lists all the marine animal species (fish, turtles, invertebrates…) that inhabit this unique sea, which boasts one of the highest endemism rates in the world. Illustrated with pictures, it is the reference book for discovering the region’s underwater life.
Geographical area: Indian Ocean and Red Sea
This guidebook is illustrated with over 1,800 underwater photographs, and presents nearly 1,200 species of fish encountered while diving in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, from the surface down to depths of 60 metres. A reference work for those keen on the subsea world, especially snorkelers and divers. This book is out of print but can be found in ebooks or used.
Geographical area: Galápagos Archipelago
Species: fish, coastal marine life, birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, plants
Sea lions, penguins, iguanas, turtles… In the Galápagos Islands more than anywhere else, underwater life is not limited to fish. For that particular reason, we recommend this guide describing all the animal species of this mythical archipelago. If you are focus on fish, and look for a comprehensive book, Reef Fish Identification – Galápagos Islands is the reference guide (also available in ebook).
Geographical area: Eastern Pacific, from the Gulf of California to Panama
A reference field guide for identifying reef fishes from the Gulf of California to the Pacific coast of Panama, including offshore islands. It contains over 500 photographs of 400 species taken in their natural habitat.
Geographical area: Eastern Pacific, from California to Alaska
From the beautiful cool waters of Catalina Island to the frigid straits teaming with life in British Columbia, this book covers it all. This is the most comprehensive pictorial fish ID guide ever published for these waters. More than 320 superb color photos are presented in this popular, quick-reference format.
Geographical area: Mediterranean and Western Europe
This is “THE” guide for Mediterranean fish: 1450 pictures, more than 800 species described, and detailed information on each of them (distribution, behavior, etc.). The ideal companion for your summer snorkeling sessions on the Mediterranean coasts and islands. We use it A LOT!
Geographical area: Australia
A very comprehensive and practical guide to identifying sea fishes commonly seen in Australia, from the tropical Great Barrier Reef to the temperate Tasmania waters. Every species account is accompanied by one or more colour photographs, nearly all of which show the fishes in their natural habitat with a distribution map. Very complete guide!
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