Fish identification guides, the best books to learn more about marine life!

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!

How to choose a fish ID guide?

There is a wide variety of identification guides, and several parameters must be taken into account when making a choice:

  • The geographic area – To date, there is no book that lists all the fish in the world. You will therefore have to choose a guide who presents the species of the region in which you will be snorkeling. The broadest guides cover the entire tropical IndoPacific or coral reefs around the world (which already includes many destinations), but for more specific areas (such as the Mediterranean, the temperate coasts of Australia, the Galápagos Islands or California), you will need to purchase local guides.
Fish ID book on the beach
  • The covered creatures – Some authors choose to present only fish, and others a greater variety of species, such as invertebrates, corals or marine mammals. Here, your choice will depend mainly on your areas of interest, knowing that general guides often only present one part of the species of each family.
  • The illustrations types – There are two different types of illustrations in the guides: species illustrated by photos, and species illustrated by drawings. The photos facilitate identification by their realistic side, but the drawings allow us to have a more “generic” (and therefore more universal) representation of the species.

Snorkeling Report’s library

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).

Fish ID guides

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.

Our selection of Marine Life field guides

Here is a small selection of guides for identifying fish and underwater life for snorkelers.

Wildlife of the Galápagos

Sea lions, penguins, iguanas, turtles… In the Galapagos Islands more than elsewhere, underwater life is not limited to fish. For that particular reason, we recommend this guide describing all the animal species of this mythical archipelago. We bought it for our trip there and never regretted it!

Europe and Mediterranean Marine Fish ID guide

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 used it A LOT! Strongly recommended.

Guide to sea fishes of 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!

Hawaii’s Fishes

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!

Reef fish ID: Florida Caribbean Bahamas

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! Strongly recommended.

Reef fish ID: Tropical Pacific

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.

Reef fish ID: Baja 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.

Coastal fish ID: 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.

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