51 of the Most Colorful Coral Reefs in the World

Many of us probably think of rainforests as some of the brightest places on Earth. But coral reefs are a lot like underwater rainforests. Each one is teeming with brilliantly colored fish and other marine life swimming above a vast geography of rainbow coral. And while you may have heard of the Great Barrier Reef and some of the other more famous coral reefs, there are seemingly countless smaller reefs that are just as lovely.

Here’s our list of the world’s most colorful coral reefs:

1. Rainbow Reef

Corals growing on a section of rainbow reef in the somosomo strait of fiji.
  • Location: Fiji
  • Size: About 19 miles long
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes Spanish mackerel, clownfish, scorpionfish, bubble corals, fan corals, and staghorn corals.
  • Colorful feature: The Rainbow Reef really lives up to its name. It’s rich in impossibly bright organisms. From purple anemones to red fan corals to orange and white clownfish, you can see almost any color of the rainbow here!

Rainbow Reef is one of the most popular scuba diving sites in the South Pacific Ocean. Part of the reef is known as the Great White Wall, as there is a steep wall of white coral that goes as far as 213 feet deep. The reef is mostly responsible for Fiji’s being named the “soft coral capital of the world.”

2. Gordon Reef

Underwater world of the Red Sea, corals, goldfish and other fish, against the background of the sea depth near the coral reef Gordon.
  • Location: Egypt
  • Size: About 0.75 meters long
  • Age: Up to 450 million years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes white tip reef sharks, triggerfish, Napoleon fish, blue point rays, cauliflower coral, branching coral, and fan coral.
  • Colorful feature: The beautiful Gordon Reef is one of the rainbow wonders of the Red Sea. Here, you can see silvery sharks and otherworldly corals alike.

Gordon Reef is full of both natural and human-made sights. Close to the top of the reef, you can see how fish and corals have taken over a shipwreck from 1981. Along with other reefs in the Red Sea, Gordon Reef is among the oldest in the world. Thanks to its different depth levels, Gordon Reef is a great choice for both beginning and experienced divers. If you’d rather not dive, portions of the reef are shallow enough to allow snorkeling as well.

3. Great Barrier Reef

Aerial footage of Great Barrier reef in Australia.
  • Location: Coral Sea, Australia
  • Size: Over 1,400 miles long
  • Age: Formation began about 600,000 years ago
  • Coral and fish species: Includes lettuce leaf coral, staghorn coral, seahorses, surgeonfish, and green sea turtles.
  • Colorful feature: The Great Barrier Reef has been compared to a rainforest canopy. Aside from its seemingly endless array of corals, it is full of some of the most colorful fish in the world. Many include stripes and patches of sunny yellow, deep blue, fiery orange, and more!

Australia’s absolutely massive Great Barrier Reef is probably the world’s most famous coral reef. It is more accurately described as a “reef system” made up of over 2,900 individual coral reefs. It is so large that it can even be seen from outer space!

4. Raja Ampat

Colorful fish swimming in Raja Ampat islands.
  • Location: Indonesia
  • Size: About 143 miles long
  • Age: Likely between 5,000 and 10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes platygyr brain coral, sea fan coral, branching coral, many types of angelfish, scorpionfish, parrotfish, and tuna.
  • Colorful feature: Raja Ampat is one of the world’s most colorful diving destinations. It is full of some of the brightest corals on Earth, along with species like parrotfish that look like they have been painted in brilliant colors.

The name “Raja Ampat” means “Four Kings.” This refers to the four larger islands in an archipelago consisting of thousands of smaller islands. This is the place to go if you want to see as many species as possible, as it is the world’s most biodiverse marine site. It’s the ideal destination for both divers and snorkelers. 

5. New Caledonia Barrier Reef

Colorful coral reef in New Caledonia.
  • Location: New Caledonia
  • Size: About 932 miles long
  • Age: About 10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes dugongs, various goby species, humpback whales, blue coral, sea anemones, and sea fan corals.
  • Colorful feature: This barrier reef is home to some very bright corals as you can see in the picture. Against a baseline of bright pink and yellow corals swim a hige range of colorful tropical fish, including bright pink and orange anemonefish.

This reef is the longest continual barrier reef in the world, and its biodiversity is thought to be at least as expansive as that of the Great Barrier Reef. It has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and despite some environmental threats, the reef seems to be healthy overall.

6. Apo Reef

Little Scorpaena in coral cup off island of Mindoro.
  • Location: Philippines
  • Size: About 16 miles long
  • Age: Likely about 10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes Napoleon wrasse, triggerfish, soft coral, and branching coral.
  • Colorful feature: Apo Reef is part of the Philippines, home to bright species on land and underwater. Multicolored triggerfish and bright corals look especially stunning against the turquoise-blue water.

If you’re looking for a coral reef with seemingly endless opportunities for exploration, Apo Reef is the place to go. It stretches about 16 miles in one direction and 12 miles in the other direction. Thanks to its colorful marine life, clear water, and white sand at the bottom, Apo Reef is one of the premier diving destinations for those hoping for a clear view of some of the world’s best marine life! 

7. Lord Howe Island

Rainbow-colored fish off Lord Howe Island.
  • Location: Tasman Sea (between Australia and New Zealand)
  • Size: About 6 miles long
  • Age: Up to 7 million years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes parrotfish, nudibranchs, bluefish, sea whip coral, cauliflower coral, and more.
  • Colorful feature: Lord Howe Island’s coral reef lagoon has pristine, clear waters and white sand, making it the perfect backdrop for some of the most colorful marine life in the world. It includes over 80 species of coral in almost every color imaginable, as well as animals like the colorful parrotfish in the picture!

This smaller reef is a sheltered lagoon nestled in the crescent-shaped part of Lord Howe Island. The island itself has interesting origins; it was initially the remnant of an ancient volcano that eroded away. Its sheltered reef makes it great for snorkeling. However, Lord Howe Island can take some travel to get to, as it sits between Australia and New Zealand.

8. Osprey Reef

Grey reef sharks at a shark feed in Osprey reef.
  • Location: Coral Sea, Australia
  • Size: About 16 miles long
  • Age: Up to 500,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes many large, soft corals including staghorn corals and crinoid corals. Fish species include hogfish, many wrasse species, and midnight snapper.
  • Colorful feature: The colorful corals in this beautiful dive site include lots of yellow and black corals. Garden-like collections of pink corals are also home to giant clams and fish of nearly every possible color.

Osprey Reef has a fascinating history. It is an atoll that became submerged in ancient times. As a result, the reef itself is like an underwater mountain full of fish and coral. As a sheltered lagoon, it makes for a great first dive site.

9. Biscayne National Park

School of fish in coral reef in Biscayne National Park.
  • Location: Key Biscayne, Florida
  • Size: Park is 270 square miles
  • Age: About 300 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes branching coral, playgyr brain coral, parrotfish, damselfish, angelfish, and more.
  • Colorful feature: This national park encompasses a collection of many coral reefs across the keys. Its relatively young corals are especially bright, and the reefs are home to some of the brightest fish in North America. Especially notable are the many varieties of angelfish that are bright blue, yellow, white, and orange.

Don’t let the name of this reef collection fool you; Biscayne National Park is 95% water! It includes many of the relatively young coral reefs surrounding Florida. The park was initially supposed to be part of Everglades National Park.

10. Kingman Reef

Beautiful reef scenics in inner lagoon.
  • Location: Northern Pacific Ocean (about halfway between American Samoa and Hawaii)
  • Size: About 12.5 miles long
  • Age: Uncertain, although it was discovered in 1798
  • Coral and fish species: Includes goatfish, surgeonfish, parrotfish, stony coral, and gold coral.
  • Colorful feature: Kingman Reef has more than three times the coral diversity as the Hawaiian islands, so it is a smorgasbord of color. These colorful corals are dotted with some of the world’s most brilliantly colored fish.

Kingman Reef is one of the most remote areas on the list. Since it is an island that is submerged most of the time, it is completely uninhabited. It has become a destination for amateur radio operators, who temporarily put the island on air. Though it is located in Oceania, it is considered to be an unincorporated territory of the United States.

11. Kimbe Bay

Tropical fish swimming above coral reef at liveaboard dive site in Papua New Guinea
  • Location: Papua New Guinea
  • Size: About 310 miles long
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes table coral, sea fan coral, barracudas, dragonets, tuna, and hammerhead sharks.
  • Colorful feature: As part of the Coral triangle, the massive Kimbe Bay includes more than 400 species of coral and is sometimes called a “coral crucible.” You can see a rainbow of reef fish, anemones, sharks, corals, and more.

Kimbe Bay is a coral stronghold of sorts. It contains 60% of the coral species present in the Indo-Pacific region. The area is a bit more sheltered from human impact than other reefs, making it an important area for the preservation of coral.

12. The Maldives Reefs

Coral reef in South Ari Atoll, Maldives
  • Location: The Maldives
  • Size: System is 1,742 square miles
  • Age: Likely about 5,000-10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes Napoleon fish, grouper, anemonefish, black coral, and a variety of soft corals.
  • Colorful feature: Thanks to its vast collection of marine life, this reef system is full of splashes of color. The bright Napoleon fish is a standout with its bright blue and yellow patterning.

The Maldives is a collection of over 1000 small islands. It includes an underwater mountain range covered in corals of virtually every type. And though the islands make up a fairly small surface area of land, the reef system of the Maldives is the eighth largest one in the world.

13. Ningaloo Coast

Colourful tropical fish and corals in Ningaloo reef coast in Western Australia.
  • Location: Western Australia
  • Size: About 160 miles long
  • Age: About 7,000-8,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes many species of sea sponges, butterflyfish, scissortails, wrasse, coral trout, parrotfish, finger corals, and staghorn corals.
  • Colorful feature: This young reef is full of fantastically colored fish; parrotfish and butterflyfish are among the ocean’s brightest!

The Ningaloo Coast Reef is the largest fringing reef in Australia. A fringing reef is one that is attached to (or at least very close to) the shore. This one is home to many rare species, including traveling whale sharks that stop by each year. The Ningaloo Reef is right on the migratory path of plenty of other species too, including dugongs, rays, and dolphins.

14. Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

Gorgonian coral Great Mayan Reef in Riviera Maya of Caribbean Mexico
  • Location: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras
  • Size: More than 700 miles long
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes blue tang, splendid toadfish, sunshine fish, French angelsfish, lobe coral, sea anemones, and more. It is also home to a large population of manatees.
  • Colorful feature: As the second largest barrier reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef includes a vast collection of bright fish and corals. As you can see from the photo, the surrounding waters are beautiful bright blue!

This reef is also called the Great Mayan Reef. Unfortunately, due to human influence and environmental factors, it is considered to be critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. The entire reef has also been threatened by the red lionfish, an invasive species that devours the organisms that help keep corals free of algae and diseases.

15. Flinders Reef

Tropical fish swimming on Flinders Reef.
  • Location: Queensland, Australia
  • Size: About 0.025 square miles
  • Age: Uncertain; discovered in the 1800s
  • Coral and fish species: Includes sweetlip, surgeonfish, parrotfish, wrasse, leopard sharks, plate coral, brain coral, and staghorn coral.
  • Colorful feature: The diverse marine life on Flinders Reef looks all the more colorful thanks to the reef’s small size. The many species of coral cover the walls and caves of the reef, and they come in orange, yellow, red, pink, green, and more.

Despite its small size, Flinders Reef is very diverse, as it’s home to more than 175 fish species! The reef itself is built on a small, underwater sandstone platform. It’s a popular diving destination and is a great choice for those who want to see Australian marine life but want to avoid the expense of diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

16. Sodwana Bay

School of cresent-tail bigeyes (Priacanthus hamrur) near coral reef.
  • Location: South Africa
  • Size: About 31 miles long
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes branching corals, table corals, and plate corals as well as ragged-toothed sharks, sailfish, and leatherback turtles.
  • Colorful feature: This beautiful reef system has several levels of depth, and each one features different colors of coral and species. One of the steepest drops is marked by a large green tree coral!

Sodwana Bay’s reef system is full of diving and snorkeling sites. In fact, it is often included in lists of the world’s most popular dive sites, and it’s visited by over 35,000 scuba divers every year. The bay and surrounding areas are also great destinations for tourists.

17. Nha Trang Bay

Beautiful corals in Nha Trang Bay.
  • Location: Vietnam
  • Size: About 220 square miles total
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes over 350 species of reef-building corals, including lobe, elkhorn, and blue corals. Also includes scorpionfish, groupers, trumpetfish, angelfish, and rays.
  • Colorful feature: Even above water, Nha Trang Bay is extremely colorful. It is a rich, electric blue. Beneath the water are pink, yellow, orange, and green corals with dazzling reef fish swimming around them.

This beautiful Vietnamese bay is a refuge for a whole host of coral species. It is also a prime tourist destination and offers plenty of opportunities for diving, snorkeling, riding in glass-bottom boats, and even viewing the bay from above via cable car! It also is a popular destination for couples to take underwater wedding photos.

18. Pulau Weh

Bank of butterfly fish swimming on the coral reef, in Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia.
  • Location: Sumatra, Indonesia
  • Size: Reefs surround the island, which has an area of about 47 square miles
  • Age: Between 12,000 and 2.5 million years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes dolphins, butterflyfish, sea turtles, and lots of stony table corals of the Acroporagenus.
  • Colorful feature: Like many other above-water and underwater parts of Indonesia, Pulau Weh is rich with multicolored marine life. And as you can see from the butterflyfish in the picture, these fish aren’t just bright; many have intricate patterns, too!

Pulau Weh is a volcanic island whose central volcano is still active. However, its last eruption was in the ancient Pleistocene epoch. It is an extremely popular destination for divers, and most diving companies recommend visiting between April and November, or the area’s dry season. This smallish island alone has over 20 diving spots, and it’s regarded as one of Indonesia’s best diving sites.

19. Redang Island

The sunlit coral reef in lagoon of South China sea near Redang island, Malaysia.
  • Location: Terengganu, Malaysia
  • Size: Over 8 miles of reefs
  • Age: The island formed at least 250 million years ago
  • Coral and fish species: Includes tiger sea urchins, barracuda, lobsters, stingrays, sponges, plate corals, and finger corals.
  • Colorful feature: The lovely reefs surrounding Redang Island are full of red, white, and black corals, as well as over 3,000 species of marine life that are every color of the rainbow!

This small island is home to the world’s largest coral. Called “mushroom coral,” it has a 300-meter diameter and is 20 meters tall! Its many reefs are also home to two shipwrecks that can be a lot of fun to explore. The water surrounding the island is brilliant blue, and it’s framed beautifully by white sand and plentiful greenery.

20. Thousand Islands

Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands) scuba diving.
  • Location: Near Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Size: Varying sizes; there are around 700 individual reefs in the archipelago
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes branching corals, sun corals, anemones, tiger sharks, Indonesian coelocanths, giant snakeheads, and silver seabreams.
  • Colorful feature: These tropical waters near Jakarta are dotted with hundreds of small reefs, each of which is its own colorful world. As you can see in the picture, these reefs are colored with orange, red, green, and yellow, and that’s before you even see any fish!

Like the other coral reefs on the list, the reefs surrounding Indonesia’s Thousand Islands aren’t just pretty to look at. They also help to protect the island and its inhabitants from both high waves and gradual erosion. And this archipelago has far fewer islands than the name would suggest; it’s actually a string of 342 islands. Legally, 36 islands are allowed to be used recreationally. 

21. False Bay

Fish swimming among corral reef.
  • Location: South Africa
  • Size: Total bay area is 420 square miles; it includes several reefs
  • Age: Uncertain, although reefs were first officially described in the 1600s.
  • Coral and fish species: Includes nudibranchs, stingrays, hottentots, pyjama sharks, branching corals, elkhorn corals, and more.
  • Colorful feature: As you can see in the photo, the reefs of false bay are bursting with orange green, pink, and yellow corals. Colorful reef fish abound, and you may sometimes even see the high-contrast beauty of a killer whale!

The largest reef in False Bay is Whittle Rock Reef. While it’s a great dive site, it has historically been the cause of multiple shipwrecks. Some popular dive sites let you explore nearby shipwrecks, including the wreck of the Clan Stuart, a British steamship. If you’re looking to start out in the diving hobby with a truly beautiful backdrop, the reefs at False Bay are a great place to start!

22. Gili Air Island

Scuba diver looks at Gorgonian fan corals on Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia.
  • Location: Lombok, Indonesia
  • Size: Total area of this and other Gili Islands is 5.8 square miles, and they are surrounded by several coral reefs
  • Age: Likely about 10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes fan corals, table corals, bumphead parrotfish, trevally, reef sharks, garden eels, and more.
  • Colorful feature: As you can see in the photo, the stunning reefs around Gili Air are bursting with orange, pink, green, and more. Sharks and manta rays add a silvery burst to the color palette of the reefs.

This beautiful island is actually part of an archipelago of three, each of which has surrounding coral reefs. As part of a conservation effort, the reefs around the Gili Islands are being monitored by the Underwater Time Lapse Project. This project takes photographs of corals at regular intervals and records data in order to track any reef deterioration.

23. Verde Island

Skinspot pygmygoby (trimma halonevum) near Verde Island, Puerta Galera.
  • Location: Philippines (between islands of Luzon and Mindoro)
  • Size: Uncertain; various small reefs surround the island
  • Age: Likely about 10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes brain corals, table corals, nudibranchs, whale sharks, dragonets, goby fish, and more.
  • Colorful feature: The Philippines are home to many colorful species on land and sea. So it’s not surprising that the reefs around Verde Island are encrusted with glowing pink and yellow corals and countless bright fish like the goby in the picture.

This little, rugged island was not connected to mainland electricity until 1988! It was not a popular diving destination until recently. In 1999, the Pastor clan opened a resort. The island has a couple of land attractions to explore before or after you dive. There’s a cave tunnel that goes from one end of the island to the other, and there’s also a beautiful stretch of white beach.

24. San Andres Island

Coral reef in San Andres.
  • Location: Colombia
  • Size: Island is 10 square miles; it’s surrounded by various small reefs
  • Age: Formation may have begun millions of years ago; it first appeared on maps in the 1500s
  • Coral and fish species: Includes staghorn coral, brain coral, elkhorn coral, star coral, pufferfish, wrasse, parrotfish, and more.
  • Colorful feature: Though the actual reefs in San Andres are small, they are packed with bright marine life. Painted parrotfish, star-like pufferfish, and a veritable rainbow of all types of coral make this an unforgettable dive!

We’re mostly focusing on the colorful coral reef surrounding it, but San Andres Island itself is a coral island. That means its structure comes from accumulated bits of coral detritus. This remarkable island is technically part of Colombia, but its historical ties to the United Kingdom have resulted in a truly unique blend of cultures.

25. Faga‘alu Bay

Scuba diver on healthy coral reef in American Samoa.
  • Location: American Samoa
  • Size: Uncertain (reefs follow some of the coastline of the bay)
  • Age: Formation may have begun as far as 2.6 million years ago
  • Coral and fish species: Includes hard and soft corals: table corals, branching corals, and others. Also includes surgeonfish, wrasse, parrotfish, and damselfish.
  • Colorful feature: As you can see in the picture, Faga’alu Bay and other areas of American Samoa are full of bright, healthy corals. And like many tropical reefs, the small reefs in this bay have beautifully clear blue water overhead.

Faga’alu Bay is both broad and shallow, making it an ideal destination for snorkeling. But like many sites on the list, it also makes an excellent dive site. The US Coral Reef Task Force has designated it as a priority watershed, where changes are monitored.

26. Kealakekua Bay

Yellow tropical fish swimming in Kealakekua Bay.
  • Location: Hawaii
  • Size: Bay is about 1.45 square miles
  • Age: Formation began about 4.5 million years ago
  • Coral and fish species: Includes spinner dolphins, brain coral, sea whip coral, finger coral, several types of angelfish, ahi, and goatfish.
  • Colorful feature: You might think of colorful hibiscus flowers when you think of Hawaii. But these volcanic islands are surrounded with many types of angelfish, the bright green and yellow of ahi tuna, and of course, the stunning blue water.

This beautiful, pristine bay has been designated a wildlife conservation district, so it’s a great place to go enjoy the beauty of nature through a range of outdoor activities. Kayaking, snorkeling, diving, and hiking are all popular activities in and around the bay. If you’re up for a short hike, you can even visit a monument in memory of the famed Captain James Cook.

27. Elphinstone Reef

Beautiful soft corals and fish on Elphinstone reef underwater in the Red Sea.
  • Location: Egypt
  • Size: 1640 feet long
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Mostly soft corals of the “carnation” type; fish species include triggerfish, flutemouths, whitetip sharks, barracuda, and angelfish.
  • Colorful feature: The soft corals of Elphinstone Reef are especially bright. Some are pristine white and others are bright pink. And of course, silvery sharks and rainbow-bright fish round out the underwater scenery.

This lovely reef is another of the Red Sea’s beautiful coral formations. It’s somewhat unique in that it is a standalone reef. It’s one of the most desirable dive sites in all of the Red Sea. And while it may not be as expansive as some of the larger reefs on the list, Elphinstone Reef is easily one of the most color-rich coral reefs on the list.

28. Hanauma Bay

Beautiful tropical fish in Hanauma Bay.
  • Location: Hawaii
  • Size: About 0.16 square miles
  • Age: The bay began to form with a crater created 32,000 years ago
  • Coral and fish species: Includes cauliflower, lobe, and rice finger corals. Fish species include many varieties of parrotfish, trevally, and wahoo.
  • Colorful feature: Hanauma Bay is a blast of color. Its corals may not always be as bright as others on the list, but its marine life is especially notable: parrotfish are very bright, and the bay is home to seven different varieties of them!

Hanauma Bay is another of the pristine, coral-rich bays that Hawaii has to offer. However, it has unfortunately suffered from human overuse. There are a few different initiatives to help restore and protect the bay. One of these is planting nursery-grown coral to help replace dead or damaged coral.

29. Protea Banks

Potato Grouper on Protea Banks South Africa
  • Location: South Africa
  • Size: About 3.7 miles long
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes Zambezi sharks, tuna, ragged-tooth sharks, giant guitar sharks, and potato bass. Coral types include branching corals, see whips, and more.
  • Colorful feature: As you can see in the photo, the coral reefs at Protea Banks are packed densely with all shapes, sizes, and colors of coral. It also hosts many shark species, so there’s always some visual interest!

Like many reefs on the list, Protea Banks is a great site for scuba diving. But it’s not for the faint of heart; it’s ideal for shark dives thanks to the many species of shark you can see here. The Sardine Run, a massive migration of sardine fish in June and July, is also a very popular attraction. But since there’s no way to predict the exact date it will be, getting to witness the Sardine Run is really a matter of luck and timing.

30. Coroa Vermelha Reef

Colorful underwater shot of fish and coral in Coroa Vermelha Reef.
  • Location: Bahia, Brazil
  • Size: Uncertain; this is a smallish reef off a smallish island
  • Age: Archipelago formation began about 42 million years ago
  • Coral and fish species: Coral types are mostly fan coral and brain coral. Fish species include red snapper, friar, xaréus, and more.
  • Colorful feature: This shallow reef is often patterned with sunlight filtering down through the clear water. And as you can see from the photo, it’s full of angelfish and other energetically-colored reef fish.

This reef is most accurately described as a submerged bank off of the Abrolhos Archipelago in Brazil. The reef also offers some shelter to the shore, so it forms a tranquil beach ideal for children or nervous swimmers to explore. Notably, this reef and surrounding ones have a characteristic dome shape (called “chapeirão”) that is significantly different from that of most other coral reefs.

31. Galés de Maragogi

Aerial shot of Galés de Maragogi.
  • Location: Maragogi, Brazil
  • Size: Various (The “Galés” are shallow tidal pools)
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Coral types include brain coral and various types of branching corals; fish species include parrotfish, surgeonfish, and various types of butterflyfish.
  • Colorful feature: These are tropical pools of clear blue water that form at low tide, allowing you to see many species of coral. They’re like technicolor tidepools!

Maragogi is along South America’s spectacular Coral Coast. Its “Galés” are its main attraction. They are pools that form at low tide, allowing you to see corals and other types of marine life. Many Maragogi businesses offer catamaran tours of the pools, although private tours can be arranged, too.

32. Ambon Island

Diver, coral reef, sponge, sea fan in Ambon, Maluku, Indonesia underwater photo.
  • Location: Maluku Islands, Indonesia
  • Size: Reefs surround the island, which has an area of 287 square miles
  • Age: Uncertain; experts don’t know exactly when the island formed
  • Coral and fish species: Includes finger corals, fan corals, and brain corals. Fish species include royal angelfish, trumpetfish, clownfish, and mirror butterflyfish.
  • Colorful feature: The Maluku Islands offer some of the world’s best coral habitats, and you can see that from the bright color of the corals in the photo! The bright, healthy corals form a stunning backdrop for the many species of fish above.

Ambon Island is one of the more developed islands of Indonesia’s Maluku Islands. It is surrounded by coral reefs, some of which are in surprisingly deep waters. You can find tropical rainforests on land and bright reefs underwater, so these islands offer a slice of paradise wherever you are!

33. Ie Island

Beautiful coral reef in Okinawa, Japan.
  • Location: Okinawa, Japan
  • Size: Island is 8.9 square miles; reefs surround much of it
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes staghorn corals, brain corals, and finger corals. Fish species include frogfish, batfish, sea urchins, Moorish idols, and false clownfish.
  • Colorful feature: As you can see in the photo, the reefs around Ie Island pack a lot of color into a relatively small space! Many different corals form a beautiful backdrop for tropical fish of every possible hue.

Not everyone knows that there are coral reefs in Japan. However, Ie Island offers some fantastic, unspoiled diving and snorkeling. It’s a 30-minute ferry ride from the main island to the dive site, but it’s well worth the trip!

34. Sea of Cortez

Beautiful living reef in Baja California.
  • Location: Baja California Sur, Mexico
  • Size: About 1,500 feet long
  • Age: About 20,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes branching coral, fan coral, pufferfish, yellowtail, damselfish, octopus, and angelfish.
  • Colorful feature: The Sea of Cortez is sometimes called the “world’s aquarium,” and it’s easy to see why! Large commercial fish and small, colorful reef fish alike swirl around this picturesque fringing reef.

Mexico’s Sea of Cortez is home to a beautiful living reef. That reef is part of Cabo Pulmo Marine Park, an area that has been designated as a Mexican National Park. If you want to explore the reef for yourself, you might want to stay at one of the park’s laid-back boatels or enjoy home-cooked food in the park restaurant!

35. Alor Reef

Vibrant coral reef near Alor, Indonesia.
  • Location: Alor, Indonesia
  • Size: Uncertain; the island is surrounded by a whole collection of reefs
  • Age: Around 10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes batfish, Napoleon wrasse, barramundi, nudibranchs, fan coral, finger coral, and table coral.
  • Colorful feature: Because they are so healthy and well-preserved, these reefs are among the brightest on the list! At one point called “the Cathedral,” you can see a wall of purple, green, orange, red, and blue coral, all surrounded by bright reef fish.

This reef is nestled within the famed Coral Triangle, and it’s one of the best-preserved reefs in Indonesia. That’s because local people prohibited blast fishing and other practices that could cause serious reef damage. The reefs around Alor are incredibly varied; parts are surrounded by red volcanic sand, and you can dive along submerged volcanic caves and entire walls of bright coral!

36. Chumbe Island Coral Park

Batfish at Coral Park, Zanzibar, Tanzania.
  • Location: Zanzibar, Tanzania
  • Size: Island is 0.09 square miles; it is surrounded by reefs
  • Age: Around 5,000-10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes lobe corals, brain corals, batfish, fire dartfish, ribbon eels, octopus, and giant groupers.
  • Colorful feature: The healthy reefs near Chumbe Island are surrounded by beautiful blue water and white sand. You might see the dazzlingly colorful mantis shrimp or spot a silvery bottlenose dolphin swimming by!

The reefs inside of Chumbe Island Coral Park are some of the most pristine in the world. That’s likely because prior to becoming a protected area, the reefs fell within a military zone, so they weren’t exposed to much human activity. The reef sanctuary within the park is Tanzania’s first marine sanctuary. It is privately owned, but visitors can stay in a lodge, go on dives and nature walks, and learn about the island via its visitor center.

37. Tubbataha Reefs National Park

Vibrant colors underwater in the Tubbataha Reef.
  • Location: Philippines
  • Size: Total park area is 374 square miles
  • Age: Around 5,000-10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes lionfish, clownfish, manta rays, parrotfish, table corals, and fan corals.
  • Colorful feature: As you can see in the picture, the deep colors of this coral reef look especially dazzling against the cool blue water. Since the reef is well protected, its corals are bright red, fiery orange, and electric purple.

Tubbataha Reef, the main reef in the park, is built on the remains of underwater volcanos. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is currently protectively managed by the Department of National Defense of the Philippines. It’s a popular diving site thanks to its massive walls of coral. And there’s no shortage of marine life to be found, either. The reef is home to over 1,000 marine species!

38. Palancar Reef

Pink and purple coral reef in Palancar Gardens, Cozumel.
  • Location: Cozumel, Mexico
  • Size: About 3.5 miles long
  • Age: About 5,000 to 10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes ocean sunfish, splendid toadfish, parrotfish, angelfish, staghorn corals, finger corals, and table corals.
  • Colorful feature: Palancar Reef looks like a piece of paradise. Its corals and blue waters are certainly beautiful, but its most spectacular color comes from its sea life. From magnificent sunfish and angelfish to the small but bright sea anemones, the creatures of Palancar Reef are truly a sight to behold!

Palancar Reef is next to Mexico’s island of Cozumel, and it’s part of Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park. The reef itself has several different dive sites, and there’s something for every ability level. The Palancar shallows make a beautiful introduction for newer divers, while more experienced explorers might enjoy the Palancar caves or Palancar deep.

39. Wakatobi National Park

Abundance reef and marine life in Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia.
  • Location: Indonesia
  • Size: Total park area is 5,366 square miles
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes elkhorn corals, mushroom corals, anthias, pogo-pogo, argus spots, and Napoleon wrasse.
  • Colorful feature: The reefs in this park are just as picturesque as the views onshore. Multicolored fish like the Napoleon wrasse swim serenely beneath the crystal blue water, and seemingly endless stretches of coral are surrounded by soft white sand.

The reefs of Wakatobi National Park are located within the Coral Triangle, a mecca for divers who want to see some of the world’s most spectacular underwater views. Interestingly enough, the name “Wakatobi” is a combination of the first two letters of four main islands within the park: Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko.

40. Black Rock Reef

A scorpionfish hidden amongst colorful soft corals on a tropical coral reef.
  • Location: Myanmar
  • Size: Island is about 0.05 miles long; reefs stretch around it
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes whale sharks, manta rays, scorpionfish, carnation corals, brain corals, and more.
  • Colorful feature: As you can see in the photo, lots of the coral on this reef is bright, energetic pink. Equally bright sea life uses it to camouflage; see if you can spot the scorpionfish in the picture!

Though the sea life around it is colorful, Black Rock itself is not! It’s a tiny limestone island that just looks like a large rock surrounded by water. But if you want to see giant marine life like whale sharks, it’s an outstanding dive site.

41. The Virgin Islands

A scuba diver above the coral reef in the warm waters at St. Croix Island in US Virgin Islands.
  • Location: Virgin Islands
  • Size: Reef area is about 115 square miles
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes brain corals, branching corals, sea whip corals, butterflyfish, angelfish, groupers, and filefish.
  • Colorful feature: The massive reef area of the Virgin Islands is packed with orange, pink, yellow, and green coral. And that doesn’t even include the impossibly bright blues, yellows, and reds of the fish surrounding them!

The lovely coral reefs in the Virgin Islands are between the islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. They also include multiple types of reef formations, including fringing, barrier, patch, and atoll reefs.

42. French Frigate Shoals

Colorful fish swim around coral in French Frigate Shoals.
  • Location: Hawaii
  • Size: About 20 miles long
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes masked angelfish, barracuda, beardfish, butterflyfish, dragonets, brain corals, and cauliflower corals.
  • Colorful feature: This crescent-shaped reef’s blue waters are graced with countless tropical fish. Among them is the masked angelfish, a dazzling white and black fish unique to Hawaii!

This beautiful reef’s name has an interesting origin. A French naval officer nearly lost two separate frigate ships while trying to navigate the area! Today, the atoll is a Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge field station.

43. Bar Reef

The marine life of the Indian Ocean
  • Location: Sri Lanka
  • Size: Total area of reef reserve is 118.4 square miles
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes branching coral, elkhorn coral, parrotfish, blue tang, snappers, angelfish, and butterflyfish.
  • Colorful feature: Bar Reef is one of the healthiest reef complexes in the Indian Ocean. As you can see in the photo, bright and healthy corals are surrounded by colorful fish like the striking blue and yellow blue tang!

Bar Reef is more properly described as being a “reef system.” It’s right off the coast of Sri Lanka. It officially became a marine sanctuary in 1992, and it is preserved and managed by Sri Lanka’s Coastal Resources Management Project.

44. Lau Islands

The coral reef in the Lau Islands, Fiji
  • Location: Lau Islands, Fiji
  • Size: Uncertain (the islands are surrounded by many smaller reefs)
  • Age: Around 5,000-10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes cauliflower corals, finger corals, table corals, coral dwarf goby, zebra morays, pipefish, grouper, and sea horses.
  • Colorful feature: As you can see in the picture, the clear, sun-dappled waters of the Lau Islands are home to stretches of bright coral; you can find them in purple, green, orange, yellow, and more.

Fiji is known for its vast array of animal life, and this string of around 60 islands is surrounded by beautiful coral reefs. Though the islands are somewhat remote, they are regarded as some of the best diving spots in Fiji.

45. Réunion Island Reef

Bright pink fish in coral reef in Reunion.
  • Location: Réunion
  • Size: About 5.6 miles long
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes brain corals, carnation corals, angelfish, Napoleon wrasse, and more.
  • Colorful feature: The bright pink fish in the picture is just one of the many brilliantly colored animals you can see nestled among the coral in this reef. Though some corals in Réunion have suffered damage, the reefs are making a colorful comeback thanks to protection efforts!

Réunion is a small island off the coast of Madagascar, and its coral reef is a major part of its economy. Unfortunately, due to both climate changes and human impact, parts of the reef have suffered bleaching and damage. However, the island created a Marine Nature Reserve in 2007 to both protect the reef and educate the public about its importance.

46. Sula Reef

The coral making up this deep-water reef in Norway are mostly bright white in color.
  • Location: Sør-Trøndelag, Norway
  • Size: About 18.1 miles long
  • Age: Likely over 10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes naturally white Lophelia corals that thrive in deep water. Fish species include redfish, rabbitfish, cusk, and catsharks.
  • Colorful feature: The coral making up this deep-water reef are mostly bright white in color. But that only serves to highlight the multicolored reef fish swimming around them!

You might be surprised to hear that there are coral reefs in Norway! But Sula reef is one of a collection of reefs that thrive in cold, deep water. It’s important to note that white corals in tropical waters are those that have been damaged by heat. But deep-water corals like Lophelia are white because they lack cells that cause pigmentation.

47. Bonaire National Marine Park

Diver approaches azure vase sponge on the reef in Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles.
  • Location: Caribbean Netherlands
  • Size: Total park area is 10 square miles; reef system includes several fringing reefs
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes finger coral, elkhorn coral, lettuce leaf coral, whale sharks, limpets, parrotfish, and surgeonfish.
  • Colorful feature: The reefs in Bonaire National Marine Park are home to some of the brightest fish on Earth, including the especially colorful parrotfish! And as you can see in the picture, tall vase sponges offer a burst of color, too.

Though the warm Caribbean waters surrounding this reef are fairly nutrient-poor, you can still find a whole host of marine life here! The reefs have been somewhat damaged by both pollution and natural disasters, but conservation efforts have helped to preserve it.

48. West Bay Beach

A tourist snorkeling among fish on West Bay beach on the Caribbean island of Roatan.
  • Location: Roatan, Honduras
  • Size: Part of Mesoamerican Reef, which is 700 miles long
  • Age: Uncertain
  • Coral and fish species: Includes Bermuda chub, blue tang, tarpon, bonefish, table corals, and elkhorn corals.
  • Colorful feature: As you can see in the picture, this reef, along with the rest of the Mesoamerican Reef, is home to many multicolored fish. The backdrop of blue Caribbean water makes them even more stunning!

West Bay Beach’s pristine reefs are part of the Mesoamerican Reef, the second-longest reef in the world. The reef extends along several countries and is home to over 500 fish species!

49. Red Sea Coral Reef

Underwater coral reef in the red sea.
  • Location: Eritrea, Egypt, and Sudan
  • Size: About 1,240 miles long
  • Age: Over 5,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes brain corals, elkhorn corals, branching corals, angelfish, octopus, barracuda, and triggerfish
  • Colorful feature: This is easily one of the most colorful reefs on the list! Even focused snapshots show you healthy corals that are pink, green, red, yellow, and more. And about 10% of fish species here are endemic, meaning they can be found nowhere else in the world!

The Red Sea Reef is Africa’s largest coral reef system. It’s also great for experienced divers, as the reef extends to over 60 feet deep.

50. Aharen Beach

Vibrant coral reef in Okinawa, Japan.
  • Location: Okinawa, Japan
  • Size: Island is about 6 square miles; it’s surrounded by reefs
  • Age: Around 5,000-10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes table corals, lettuce leaf corals, clownfish, giant clams, sea anemones, and butterflyfish.
  • Colorful feature: The Aharen Beach reef boasts a collection of bright corals. And while you might not think of Japan when you think of colorful fish, this reef is full of bright patterned fish like the butterflyfish!

The Aharen beach reef is off of Tokashiki Island in Okinawa. The corals in the reef are relatively healthy and well-preserved. It’s a great place for snorkeling, and as a bonus, it’s one of the most affordable reef excursions on the list.

51. Belize Barrier Reef

Beautiful coral in the Belize Barrier Reef.
  • Location: Belize
  • Size: 190 miles long
  • Age: Less than 10,000 years old
  • Coral and fish species: Includes brain corals, branching corals, sea whip corals, fan corals, triggerfish, mackerel, and tarpon.
  • Colorful feature: This highly diverse reef includes bright, healthy coral. It also includes stunning tropical fish like the beautifully patterned triggerfish!

Long ago, Charles Darwin described the Belize Barrier Reef as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies.” It’s part of the vast Mesoamerican Reef System, although it’s a large and impressive reef in its own right!

Nature’s Brightly Colored Coral Reefs

Whether you hope to one day visit them all or just want to admire them from afar, the world’s most stunning coral reefs are certain to make a lasting and beautiful impression. At the very least, they’re great reminders that the underwater world is just as colorful as the world on land, and sometimes even more so!