The 15 Most Beautiful Coral Reefs In The World

Divers explore highly diverse coral reef Apo Island marine reserve Philippines Visayan sea
Divers explore highly diverse coral reef Apo Island marine reserve Philippines Visayan sea | © ArteSub / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Marcelina Morfin
10 April 2018

The oceans and seas are incredible things of beauty, with a fascinating mix of underwater gardens and marine life. Of particular importance are the stunning coral reefs, which act as a protection mechanism to coastlines and a home to an array of ecosystems. Many of them are, unfortunately, threatened due to man-made causes and in need of preservation. Here are the most beautiful in the world.

Maldives

Scuba Diver on Coral Reef, Felidhu Atoll, Maldives | © mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

The Maldives are made up of 1,200 islands and 26 atolls; the waters feature a beautiful landscape of corals and vibrant array of marine life. Unfortunately, with the warming of the ocean waters, particularly the El Niño weather event of 1998, a majority of coral suffered from heavy bleaching, dying off; however, over the past few years, there have been encouraging signs of recovery.

Great Barrier Reef – Australia

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Coral Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Great Barrier Reef, Australia | © WaterFrame / Alamy Stock Photo

Not only is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef one of the most beautiful reefs in the world, but it’s also the largest one on Earth. The reef comprises over 3,000 individual reef systems, complete with abundant colorful marine life and 400 types of coral. Situated off the coast of Queensland, the reef also features hundreds of islands, many of which have pristine beaches that locals and tourists alike flock to every year. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of World, the Great Barrier Reef is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

New Caledonia Barrier Reef – New Caledonia

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Green sea turtle underwater coral reef with fish
A green sea turtle underwater on a shallow coral reef with fish, New Caledonia, south Pacific ocean | Courtesy of Damocean / Getty Images
The second-largest double barrier reef in the world, the UNESCO World Heritage Site New Caledonia Barrier Reef is an example of Mother Nature at her finest, complete with incredible blue waters in varying shades. Located in the South Pacific off the northeast coast of Australia, this double-barrier reef is home to a variety of marine life, many of which are still in the process of being discovered and classified, with the Green turtle and 1,000 fish species already documented. As with most of the stunning habitats, this one is constantly under threat due to man-made causes.

Red Sea Coral Reef – Red Sea

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Red Sea coral reef, Safaga, Egypt, Red Sea, Indian Ocean
Red Sea coral reef, Safaga, Egypt, Red Sea, Indian Ocean | © Jane Gould / Alamy Stock Photo
The Red Sea Coral Reef is an amazing undersea world located in between two of the hottest and most arid deserts in the world: the Sahara and the Arabian. Approximately 1,200 miles long, this reef, which is over 5,000 years old, is home to 300 hard coral species and about 1,200 fish, of which 10 percent are found only in this area. One thing to note about this coral reef is that it is strong, able to withstand a variety of elements including extreme temperature changes.

Rainbow Reef – Fiji

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Colorful Soft Corals (Dendronepthya sp.) and small Anthias fish (Psedanthias sp.), Rainbow Reef near Taveuni Island, Fiji, South Pacific
Colorful Soft Corals (Dendronepthya sp.) and small Anthias fish (Psedanthias sp.), Rainbow Reef near Taveuni Island, Fiji, South Pacific | © Danita Delimont Creative / Alamy Stock Photo
Located between the second and third largest islands of Fiji, Vanua Levu and Taveuni, Rainbow Reef is the perfect name for this locale, as it features a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors under the water, provided by the hard and soft corals and marine life that call the area home. Indeed, there are 230 hard and soft corals and close to 1,200 fish species, creating a feast for the eyes. With the fantastical beauty, it’s no wonder that this is one of the top diving destinations in the world.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

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Four divers swimming with a turtle, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Philippines
Divers swimming with a turtle, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Philippines | © RooM the Agency / Alamy Stock Photo
A stunning underwater landscape made up of vibrant corals and marine life, Tubbataha Reefs in the Philippines is recognized as a top diving site in the world. Comprising two coral atolls, the reefs feature 600 species of fish, 360 species of coral, 11 species of sharks, 13 species of dolphins and whales, birds, plus Hawksbill and Green sea turtles. The Tubbataha Reef Natural Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 due to its ‘pristine coral reef’ along with the ‘extensive lagoons and two coral islands.’

Raja Ampat – Indonesia

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Bioluminescent seafan surrounded by a halo of reef fish. Raja  Ampat, Indonesia.
Bioluminescent seafan surrounded by a halo of reef fish, Raja Ampat, Indonesia | © Howard Chew / Alamy Stock Photo
The waters of the Raja Ampat Islands have 450 species of reef-building coral, making it an area with the largest coral reef biodiversity based on its size. When scientists discovered this fact, they put a plan into motion to protect this underwater habitat, as so many reefs around the world are at risk. Located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, an area with 75 percent of all identifiable coral species, the area also has an impressive 1,427 species of fish. With the abundance of biodiversity, it should come as no surprise that Raja Ampat is a favored spot among divers.

Palancar Reef – Cozumel, Mexico

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Green Sea Turtle, Palancar Reef, Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Green Sea Turtle, Palancar Reef, Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico | © Cultura Creative Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Divers return again and again to this beautiful hidden gem off the coast of the island Cozumel in Mexico. While it may not be as large as other reefs, it is just as beautiful with its multicolored (think bright pinks, greens, oranges, and yellows) marine flora and fauna. The Palancar Reef is part of a bigger reef system, the Mesoamerican reef system, the second-largest on Earth. The dazzling array of coral serves as homes for seahorses, butterfly fish, sea fans, squirrel fish, parrot fish, and many others.

Great Chagos Archipelago – Indian Ocean

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Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Great Chagos Archipelago comprises 55 islands, and the Great Chagos Bank happens to be the largest coral atoll in the world and also the least polluted and the most protected. Half of the world’s coral is located here, with endemic varieties such as the Ctenella chagius, coral that resembles a brain. Add to that the rich fish population, along with turtles, dolphins, whales, and more. In order to keep the water as pristine as possible, scientists conducting research don’t even wear sunscreen.

Wakatobi Islands – Indonesia

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A beautiful coral reef thrives in Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia.
Coral reef thrives in Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia | © Stocktrek Images, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo
A stunner located in the Coral Triangle, the Wakatobi National Park is 1.39 million hectares, and its blue-green water is home to 750 coral reef species out of the world’s 850, making it a spectacular place to explore. A tentative World Heritage Site, this underwater gem is located off the southeast portion of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Adding to the already impressive scene is the diverse fish presence; indeed, the collection of fish equals 942 species.

Lord Howe Island – Australia

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Snorkeller underwater with fish and corals, North Bay, Lord Howe Island, NSW, Australia. No MR or PR
norkeller underwater with fish and corals, North Bay, Lord Howe Island, NSW, Australia | © Suzanne Long / Alamy Stock Photo
Lord Howe Island is a gorgeous island located in the Pacific Ocean. There is much beauty above the sea, but once you dive into the crystal-clear blue waters, there might be even more allure beneath. A marine park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, its marine biodiversity is unique with over 90 coral species along with 500 different species of fish. It’s possible to get close to dolphins, humpback whales, and even sharks (the harmless ones, of course). It is a true paradise.

Belize Barrier Reef – Belize

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Tourists snorkeling, Turneffe Atoll, Belize Barrier Reef, Belize
Tourists snorkeling, Turneffe Atoll, Belize Barrier Reef, Belize | © Keith Levit / Alamy Stock Photo
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the entire Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System was inscribed in 1996. It has the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, plus several other highlights like coastal lagoons and mangrove forests. The reef itself contains 106 hard and soft coral species plus 500 species of fish, only about ten percent of what scientists hope to find. However, due to man-made or natural causes, it’s not for certain which, over 40 percent of the coral reefs are damaged, making protection efforts that much more important.

Apo Reef – Philippines

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Scuba diver in a coral reef with dominating Acropora table corals (Acropora hyacinthus), Apo- reef, Dumaguete, Negros, Visayas, Philippines
Scuba diver in a coral reef with dominating Acropora table corals (Acropora hyacinthus), Apo- reef, Philippines | © Helmut Corneli / Alamy Stock Photo
At 13 miles long, the Apo Reef, located in the South China Sea on the Mindoro Strait, is the second-longest continuous coral reef on the planet. Underneath deep blue waters are a smashing array of corals in blues and pinks along with marine life such as trigger fish and sea turtles. Currently on UNESCO’s tentative list for World Heritage Site status, Apo Reef also has National Park status in order to protect this treasure from any undo harm.

Bonaire Reef – Dutch Caribbean

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Reef scene, Stoplight parrotfish (Scarus viride) at Stove-pipe sponge (Aplysina archeri), Bonaire, Netherland Antilles
Stoplight parrotfish (Scarus viride) at Stove-pipe sponge (Aplysina archeri), Bonaire, Netherland Antilles | © Helmut Corneli / Alamy Stock Photo
Known as ‘The Diver’s Paradise’, the Bonaire Reef is home to a dazzling display of hard and soft corals in bright blues, greens, yellows, purples, and pinks, like an artist’s palette. Located in the Dutch Caribbean, the waters are crystal clear, allowing divers to see clearly the rich marine biodiversity. Some of the marine life that call this reef home are angelfish, groupers, sea turtles, and seahorses.

The Grand Central Station and Chimneys – Fiji

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A diver explores the dive site knows as Chimneys or Thumbs at Namena Island
A diver explores the dive site knows as Chimneys or Thumbs at Namena Island | © Michael Greenfelder / Alamy Stock Photo
The Grand Central Station and Chimneys, located in Fiji, known as the ‘soft coral capital of the world’, is home to an abundance of corals and marine life. The Chimneys feature two coral towers adorned with soft coral in various colors, while the Grand Central Station is known for the for the plethora of sea life the area attracts, including manta rays, marble rays, hammerhead sharks, and many others. The area features 400 corals (that scientists know of) 445 documented marine plants, and over 100 invertebrate species.