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Indian Ocean Reef Guide By Helmut Debelius, 1999,  321 pages, 1000+ colour photographs.  Available from the author (publisher), IKAN Unter-wasserarchiv, Waldschulstrasse 166, Frankfurt 65933, Germany, e-mail:  or Born2dive Distributors PO Box 39441 Moreleta Park 0044 Pretoria Cell: 082 323 9585 Fax: 012 997 6221 Web: e-mail:

Review by Phil Heemstra

Helmut Debelius has published several excellent guide books to marine animals (fishes, nudibranchs, gastropods, crustaceans, soft corals, reef corals, turtles, etc).

Three-fourths of his latest Indian Ocean Reef Guide is concerned with fishes, but it also includes some wonderful photos of cleaner shrimps,  “partner shrimps”, spiny lobsters, reef lobsters, hermit crabs, squat lobsters, crabs, mantis shrimps, molluscs, flatworms, corals, sea anemones, echinoderms, turtles, sea snakes, dolphins, and whales.

In addition to the maximum length, Indian Ocean distribution, and depth distribution for each species, Debelius often gives notes on habitat, biology and behaviour.  Also scattered through the book are longer stories of interactions with fishes, notes on conservation, dive sites, etc.

Debelius is correct with most of his fish identifications, as he usually consults the experts when he has a difficult species to identify.   But inevitably, there are a few mistakes (printer’s errors?).  Herewith some corrections:

p. 52: The two fish labelled Saurida gracilis are Synodus variegatusSaurida species have very narrow upper lips, consequently, the teeth of the upper jaw are more obvious than in Synodus species.  Saurida gracilis also has a few irregular black blotches on the body.

p. 53: the two fish identified as Synodus jaculum are Synodus dermatogenys; this species is correctly identified in the photo just above.  Synodus jaculum has 6 or 7 brown saddle-blotches on the body and a conspicuous, round, dark brown or black blotch at the base of the tail fin.

p. 54: Myripristis melanosticta is a junior synonym of Myripristis botche.

p.56: Sargocentron rubrum is S. praslin.

p. 70: The Indian Ocean lionfish labelled Pterois volitans is regarded as Pterois miles, with Pterois volitans restricted to the Pacific Ocean.

p. 179: Coris frerei is a junior synonym of Coris formosa, which is the correct name for the queen wrasse.

p. 217: The spotted tang, Zebrasoma gemmatum is not confined to the Mascarene Islands; it also occurs in South African waters.

Despite these minor errors, the Indian Ocean Reef Guide is a very good introductory guide to the marine animals one is likely to encounter on the coral reefs of the Indian Ocean.

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