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“Up Close and Personal” — an Essential with Coral reef fishes and Invertebrates

In plain truth’ section at the very front of the book is like a love letter to the sea!
This jam-packed book does not just cover fish. Invertebrates of all kinds are also given the ‘Aw’ treatment.
Michael Aw
From the very first page of an “Essential Guide to Coral Reef Fishes & Invertebrates”, Michael Aw’s love, passion and almost reverence for the sea and its inhabitants shine out. Particularly touching is the ‘In plain truth’ section at the very front of the book which is almost like a love letter to the sea, while still being interesting and useful. As Michael himself points out, there have been many other marine id books published, so what is special about this one?

By Gill MacDonald & Jane Morgan

Well, several things actually. Here there are no dry, scientific lists of the wonderful and exotic creatures who live out their lives on a coral reef. Instead, in the fish category each family is addressed with a general description of how to identify the group, what they look like and how to spot them. This is followed by a ‘domain & diet’ paragraph explaining where they can be found and what and sometimes more importantly how they eat, all really helpful information to enable the diver to better understand what he/she is looking at.

Then, the really special and unique thing about this book is a ‘photographic tips’ section on each family. Michael is well known for his beautiful and striking saturated colour imagery of the world’s oceans and the creatures who inhabit them. His photographs have received more than 60 awards from many international organisations and he has also written 28 natural history books about fish, corals and invertebrates.

So, he is very well qualified to offer advice about how to capture rewarding images of the wonderful marine life on the coral reef. These photographic insights include the best lens to use, the best position to adopt, how to capture the particular behaviour of the animal and even sometimes suggest the best time of day to capture a particular shot.

The fish category is cleverly split into three colour-coded sections for the three zones of the reef; benthic i.e. bottom or sheltered dwelling, free swimming close to the reef and pelagic or reef fish found in the blue water around reefs. At the front of the book is also a clear description of how to identify a particular fish family based on their size, tail shape, colours etc. All this greatly helps in locating the particular creature you are seeking in the well laid out sections of the book.

This jam-packed book does not just cover fish. Invertebrates of all kinds are also given the ‘Aw’ treatment. From jellyfish to sponges, shrimps to feather stars and many other ‘usual suspects’ in between. The colour coding on these pages, while grouping types of life forms, is less significant than the fish zones, but it makes for a very colourful rummage if you scan the book at random!

These more static creatures are no less important in the book’s contents and are also fully described in their habitats, movements, behaviour and of course, there are tips on how to photograph them successfully.

I was pleased to note both the contents at the front and index section at the back refer to both the latin and English names of the animals. This is not always true of id books and one can spend a long time trying to track down the beast in question, often resorting to flicking optimistically through the pages in the hope of a glimpse. This book is very clearly laid out and indexed.

The photographs to accompany all this fascinating information are typically colourful and vibrant. Michael explains that the pictures are, as they have to be, primarily used to document and identify different species and as such, are not always the most artistic depictions. But, you can’t take the photographer out of the author and a lovely short section at the back of the book describes the art form of taking beautiful pictures underwater.

If you want to know what you are looking at, how the wonderful marine creatures live, eat, mate and behave and especially if you want tips on how to best photograph each different type of creature, buy this book!

Ed Note: Available at all good book stores in Australia and Singapore. Author autographed copy can be purchase at www.michaelaw.com – the book is sensibly price at AUD 35 plus postage.