A Review of Reef Literature.
There is a vast array of books on marine and reef aquaria available, unfortunately a lot of these books are either out dated, of dubious factual quality, or poorly compiled. In this review of books appropriate to reef hobbyists I hope to highlight the best of the currently available literature. I absolutely love good books and think that even in the age of the Internet you shouldn’t underestimate the value of having a good library to hand.
As part of this review I’m listing my choice of the best books on the market. I’m using the term “best” to describe a combination of most useful, informative, and cost effective. All the books featured are books that I own and frequently use; these are all titles that I freely refer hobbyists to when ever they’re seeking reliable information on the animals we keep in the hobby.
The first 5 books I consider more or less essential for anyone starting in the hobby, the next 2 books make a good starting point for anyone taking their hobby a step further by becoming interested in captive breeding/propagation.
At the very least you should own Aquarium Corals, Reef Aquarium Fishes, and Reef Invertebrates. These three books together constitute the bare minimum of information you need to have any chance of success with a reef aquarium. In this hobby, if you don’t research the animals you keep I can assure you that you’ll have a very high chance of failure.
Best practical advice book for the newcomer – 500 Ways to be a better Marine Fishkeeper by Tim Hayes, Dave Garratt, Tristan Lougher, and Dick Mills.
Best starter book for the new reef keeper – Natural Reef Aquariums by John Tullock.
Best coral book – Aquarium Corals by Eric Borneman.
Best fish book – Reef Aquarium Fishes by Scott Michael.
Best “non-coral” invertebrate book – Reef Invertebrates by Calfo and Fenner.
Best book on raising fish/live foods – Clownfishes by Joyce Wilkerson.
Best propagation book – The Book of Coral Propagation by Anthony Calfo.
There are a number of other very good books out there but they tend to be more specialist, of limited use, or expensive – Corals of the World (3 book boxed set) by J.E.N. Veron, The Modern Reef Aquarium vol. 1 – 4 by Fosså & Nilsen, The Reef Aquarium vol. 1 – 3 by Delbeek & Sprung, Reef Fishes Series 1 – 6 by Scott Michael, Sprung’s Quick Reference Guides, etc. The “Quick Guides” I find invaluable in a shop setting for ID purposes but apart from the excellent photographs they’re not a lot of use to the hobbyist, the Borneman book is far more informative and useful for the reef keeper at home. Start buying the multi volume sets and you’re into a seriously expensive habit at £50/£60 a pop! Add on the box set and Quick Guides and by the time you’ve completed your collection you’ll have spent close to £900! Incidentally, a friend of mine who works for Oxford University Press informs me that the most likely reason for the high cost of some of these books is due to the use of “medical quality paper” whereas the cost could probably be brought down by the use of “magazine quality paper” and us mere mortals outside of publishing would never know the difference!
Aquarium Corals by Eric Borneman.
For my money this is still currently the best book on coral ID and care. There is an excellent chapter on coral diseases and treatment. This book is fantastic value for money when compared to some of the multi-volume works.
Microcosm MC100 £39.95 ISBN 1-890087-47-5
Fishes and Corals by Dieter Brockmann.
This is a book that looks at some of the mainstays of the hobby, both fishes and invertebrates, in more detail than some of the more general guides. Written by the editor of The Modern Reef Aquarium, it contains a wealth of less well-known information.
Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag £36.00 ISBN 3-928819-15-1
The Book of Coral Propagation by Anthony Calfo.
As far as I know this is the only book about coral propagation on the market. It describes techniques of coral propagation, gives a good overview of corals, their captive requirements, and their potential for sustainable propagation. It’s not just for expert aquarists, the information contained in this book will benefit beginners and it’s an easy entertaining read.
Reading Trees £28.95 ISBN 0-9716371-0-5
Reef Invertebrates by Calfo and Fenner.
This book explores the broad variety of invertebrate organisms that reef aquarists often keep with the exception of corals and anemones. It’s a useful book for ID-ing incidental acquisitions or “hitchhikers” on live rock and corals. Excellent coverage on the subjects of live sand, live rock, refugia, and algae. This is the first in a 3 volume set The Natural Marine Aquarium Series. If the proposed follow up volumes (vol. 2 Reef Fishes and vol. 3 Reef Corals) live up to this one in terms of information and price bracket you’ll be able to put together an excellent “biological” library for around the £100 mark.
Reading Trees/WetWebMedia £25.95 ISBN 0-9672630-3-4
Crustacea Guide of the World by Helmut Debelius.
A very useful pictorial guide to the identification of the various species of crabs and shrimps that find their way into our aquaria. I’ve recently found it helpful when I’ve needed to identify unfamiliar species of pistol shrimps.
IKAN £29.95 ISBN 3 – 925919-55-4
Nudibranchs and Sea Snails Indo-Pacific Field Guide by Helmut Debelius.
Again, another useful resource for the identification of a class of animals that are often unintentionally introduced into our aquaria.
IKAN £29.95 ISBN 3 – 925919-51-1
The Reef Aquarium vol. 1 & 2 by Delbeek & Sprung.
Excellent but expensive, and dare I say it, getting a little dated in places. Together these 2 volumes make up one of the Holy Books of reef keeping and will give you plenty of priceless information.
Ricordea Publishing £ 80.00 (ea. Vol.) ISBN 1-883693-12-8/-13-6
The Reef Aquarium vol. 3 by Delbeek & Sprung.
Again, excellent but expensive. This book is the most up to date and comprehensive look at the technology behind running a reef tank currently available. If you’re serious about your hobby get this book.
Ricordea Publishing £ 90.00 (Vol. 3) ISBN 1-883693-14-4
Giant Clams in the Sea and the Aquarium by James Fatherree.
This new book from the USA is currently the only English language book available on the subject of giant clams. It covers the biology, identification, and aquarium husbandry of tridacnid clams. This book offers hobbyists the most up to date information available on the captive care of clams.
Liquid Medium £29.95 ISBN 0-9786194-0-4
Conscientious Marine Aquarist by Robert Fenner.
This is more of a fish book than a reef book but it’s for this very reason that I recommend it. The book give good coverage of fish health, disease, and treatment in a no nonsense understandable way.
Microcosm MC102/MC102S £39.95/£29.95 ISBN 1-890087-03-3/-02-5
A Fishwatchers’s Guide A Regional Account of Species of Use to the Marine Aquarist, with notes on suitability, husbandry & behaviour.
(Book 1: The Tropical West Atlantic, Hawaii, Baja and the Red Sea.) by Robert Fenner.
The regional approach of this book is unusual but if you’re trying to put a biotype together it’ll help you establish who lives with whom in real life.
WetWebMedia £19.95 ISBN 0-9672630-0-X
A Diver’s Guide to Underwater Malaysia Macrolife by Andrea & Antonella Ferrari.
This is a beautifully photographed field guide covering the fishes and mobile invertebrates to be found in the South China, Sulu, and Sulawesi seas. I’ve found it helpful for the correct identification of some of the newer species of smaller fish that are starting to come into the hobby.
Nautilus Publishing £30.00 ISBN 983-2731-00-3
The Modern Reef Aquarium vol. 1 – 4 by Fosså & Nilsen.
These 4 volumes make up the other major Holy Book of the reef aquarium and deservedly so. This is probably the nearest thing to a marine biology textbook that most of us are going to read but it’s still understandable to the average intelligent reader (most of the time!). By the time you’ve purchased all four volumes you’ll have spent a lot of money but I’m sure you’ll find it worth every penny.
Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag £59.95 (ea. Vol.) ISBN 3-928819-29-1/-23-2/-28-3/-22-4
500 Ways to be a better Marine Fishkeeper by Tim Hayes, Dave Garratt, Tristan Lougher, and Dick Mills.
Probably the best book Interpet has ever published! Biased? Yes! This is my first book in print and worth every penny (if not more!). I was the technical / editorial consultant on this project and wrote over half the book. I had complete autonomy over the content and I’m really pleased with the result. It’s an up to date book that answers many often asked questions, a must for beginners but I dare say some advanced reefkeepers could also benefit from its contents. Nicely laid out giving commonsense answers to everyday problems.
Interpet £12.99. ISBN 1-84286-108-5
Photographic Guide to the Sea & Shore Life of Britain & North-west Europe by Gibson, Hextall & Rogers.
For those of us who get dragged away from our beloved reef tanks once or twice a year by our loved ones to go on holiday, and aren’t lucky (or rich!) enough to visit where our corals come from, try this as holiday reading – and don’t forget your net, holding tank, battery powered air pump…
Oxford University Press £15.95 ISBN 0-19-850709-7
How to Raise & Train Your Peppermint Shrimp by April Kirkendoll.
A unique book, the only book I know solely on breeding crustacea. The techniques work (I know, I’ve tried ‘em) and would be appropriate starting points for species other than Lysmata species shrimps. It’s an easy read that’ll tickle your funny bone in places.
Lysmata Publishing £12.95 ISBN 0-9667784-2-1
Marine Fishes a Pocket Expert Guide by Scott Michael.
This is superb value for money. An up-to-date fish ID book, that gives guidance on reef suitability. Keep it in the car so you avoid those costly spur-of-the-moment purchases. NB. I’m on my second copy – the first one wore out due to overuse showing customers about the fish they were contemplating buying!
Microcosm £21.95 ISBN 1-890087-38-6
Reef Aquarium Fishes a Pocket Expert Guide by Scott Michael.
Again, superb value for money. This follow-up to Marine Fishes concentrates on reef friendly fishes. Contains useful information relating to many new species for the nano-reef. May well supersede Marine Fishes as far as reefkeepers are concerned
Microcosm £21.95 ISBN 1-890087-89-0
Reef Fishes Series by Scott Michael.
This is Scott Michael’s magnum opus, originally planned as a four volume set, this has evolved into an ambitious series of six volumes. These books are packed full of information on identification, behaviour, and captive care. I personally think that this series should be adopted as a standard within the hobby.
Reef Fishes vol. 1 – I absolutely love Vol. 1 and have found it very useful since it first appeared. Vol. 1 contains some of the best information available in print on the subject of sea horses. Twenty other families are covered in this first book including: Eels, Frogfishes, Lionfishes, plus Dwarf Seabasses and Anthias. Don’t be a philistine, shell out the extra fiver or so and get the hardback edition. Respect!
Microcosm MC103/MC103S £55.00/£45.00 ISBN 1-890087-21-1/-45-9
Reef Fishes 2 – Basslets, Dottybacks, & Hawkfishes.
The second volume covers ten families including: Groupers, Grammas, Jawfishes, and Cardinalfishes in addition to the title families.
Microcosm MC108 £29.95 ISBN 1-890087-33-5
Reef Fishes 3 – Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes.
The third volume, the majority of which is given over to the title families, covers twelve families including: Grunts, Goatfishes, and Monos.
Microcosm MC118 £29.95 ISBN 1-890087-69-6
Reef Fishes 4 – Damselfishes & Anemonefishes.
Microcosm ISBN 1890087971
Reef Fishes 5 – Wrasses & Parrotfishes.
Microcosm ISBN 1890087440
Great British Marine Animals by Paul Naylor.
A good photographic reference work for those of you keeping native marines or going on holiday, rock pooling, in the UK. There’s a fair bit of additional written information on each species featured; it covers fishes, and both mobile and sessile invertebrates.
Sound Diving Publications £14.00 ISBN 0-9522831-4-X
Reef Secrets by Nilsen & Fosså.
Rather a nice well put together book, which benefits from the wealth of information and photos garnered from the authors’ four volume Modern Reef Aquarium, a sort of “Modern Reef Aquarium Light!” This book has a useful ID section on common aquarium animals and as such could well make a good choice for some one unable or unwilling to purchase more than one reference work.
A beginner’s book but it does contain something of interest for more experienced aquarists.
Microcosm MC111 £29.95 ISBN 1-890087-67-X
Seahorses – An identification guide to the world’s species and their conservation. by Sara A Lourie, Amanda C J Vincent and Heather J Hall.
This is probably the definitive guide to seahorse identification and as such is invaluable given the changeability of colour and pattern in these animals and the often-incorrect ID of seahorses by importers and shops. Currently available only as a CD-ROM.
Project Seahorse £19.99
Ultimate Marine Aquariums by Mike Paletta.
A book that looks in detail at 50 world class marine aquariums ranging in size from 40 gallons to 20 000 gallons. It features statistics detailing tank size, circulation, control, filtration, lighting, system parameters and chemistry, livestock, feeding, plus a section of notes discussing topics such as any problems with the system or things the owner might like to change. If you’ve not had much chance to view other aquarists’ captive reefs this book gives you the opportunity of taking an armchair tour of some really great aquaria.
Microcosm MC116 £29.95 ISBN 1-890087-74-2
Algae by Julian Sprung.
In this book Julian Sprung identifies algae that are often considered problematic and gives recommendations on how to control them using a combination of aquarium husbandry practises and specific herbivores. Possibly a bit overpriced given the slimness of the volume, but useful information nevertheless.
Ricordea Publishing £19.95 ISBN 1-883693-02-0
Reef Life by Tackett & Tackett.
This one’s an interesting oddity, a book for the aquarist or diver giving what I would describe as “a pictorial slice of life on the reef”. It contains superb photos illustrating “what lives where” and “what lives with what”.
Microcosm MC107/MC107S £29.95/£22.95 ISBN 1-890087-55-6/-56-4
Natural Reef Aquariums by John Tullock.
If you’re new to reef keeping, this is the book I’d recommend that you get first and READ! Depending on how far you intend to get into the hobby, this may be the only book you need. This is the book that I always urge newcomers to get.
Microcosm MC101/MC101S £32.95/£25.95 ISBN 1-890087-01-7/-00-9
The Environmental Gradient by Steve Tyree.
Cryptic Sponge and Sea Squirt Filtration Models
Volume 1 of the Captive Maintenance Advanced Techniques CMAT Series.
This book contains the foundation for a new zonal approach to maintaining tropical reef organisms, based around the use of sponges and sea squirts as living filters. One for the more advanced or more adventurous aquarist. The following two titles compliment this book by describing the organisms at the heart of this new method.
D. E. Publishing £25.00
The Porifera (Living Sponges) by Steve Tyree.
Their Biology, Physiology and Natural Filtration integration
Volume 1 of the Captive Ocean Series.
D. E. Publishing £24.35
The Ascidians (Sea Squirts) by Steve Tyree.
Their Biology, Physiology and Natural Filtration Integration
Volume 2 of the Captive Ocean Series.
D. E. Publishing £26.25
Reef Building Stony Corals by Steve Tyree
The Natural Physical Environment.
Volume 1 of the Reef Building Stony Corals RBSC Series.
This, along with Steve’s other books, is probably for the more advanced aquarist. It contains a wealth of information, culled from scientific research papers, describing the natural environment from which our stony corals come. A great asset when it comes to understanding the conditions we should be replicating in our aquaria.
D. E. Publishing £25.00
NB. No ISBN currently available for D.E Publishing.
Corals of the world (3 book boxed set) by J.E.N. Veron.
Although it appears initially expensive it’s actually very good value for money, with three superb volumes giving complete coverage of stony corals. Put together by the man responsible for naming the majority of the Acropora species, this is essentially an identification book, but much other useful information can be gathered from the magnificent photography. This is really one for the expert aquarist or “Acronut” – vol. 1 has approximately 400 pages on Acroporidae alone!
Australian Institute of Marine Science £95.00 ISBN 0-642322-36-8/-37-6/-38-4
Clownfishes by Joyce Wilkerson.
A must have if you’re interested in trying to breed clowns (or for that matter any other marine fishes). The chapter on raising live foods alone makes this book worth having for anyone contemplating raising marine organisms.
Microcosm MC104S £24.95 ISBN 1-890087-04-1
By Matthew L. Wittenrich
Recycles some info from Clownfishes. Looks at more than 90 species including: jawfish, grammas, marine bettas, assessors, gobies, blennies, cardinals, dottybacks, damsels, chromis, clownfishes, and angelfishes.
Microcosm ISBN: 1890087718
This is by no means an exhaustive review of reef literature, simply the books that I’ve talked about are the ones I consider the most important/useful in the field. There’re still plenty of books sitting on my shelves that I haven’t mentioned, I could go on for ages on this subject, in fact if I were talking to you in the flesh I probably would!
Please note: prices may not be up to date and some titles may no longer be in print (even so they are still well worth searching for!)
Go on, treat yourself and your reef – build a library.
The majority of these titles are available through www.midlandreefs.co.uk
Midland Reefs Sales – Phone No. 01543 685599