1. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Let’s begin this list with a well-known favorite. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the largest of its kind on the planet. It is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.
Located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, the massive reef system consists of 2,900 individual reefs scattered across hundreds of islands. As many as 400 species of coral and thousands of marine animals and birds comprise this unique ecosystem, many of which are endemic to the Coral Sea, endangered, or threatened.
2. The Red Sea Coral Reef
The Red Sea Coral Reef is quite a famous coral reef system as well. The reef is located between two of the hottest deserts in the world - the Sahara and the Arabian Desert. It stretches across 1,200 miles in the Red Sea and consists of 300 coral species. 1,200 fish species inhabit the ecosystem, an estimated 10% of which are unique to the region.
What distinguishes the Red Sea reef from others is its unique resilience to rising sea temperatures. This fact explains how the Red Sea reef has managed to survive for 5,000 years and why it is one of the longest continuous living coral reefs in the world. The Red Sea corals can withstand rising temperatures that cause severe bleaching and mortality of corals in other parts of the world.
3. The New Caledonia Barrier Reef
Located off the coast of New Caledonia, in the South Pacific, the New Caledonia Barrier Reef is the longest continuous barrier reef in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also the third-largest reef in the world.
The reef is famous for its crystal clear waters of varying shades of blue, and an abundance of marine life. In fact, many of the species that call the New Caledonia Barrier Reef home are yet to be discovered and classified by marine biologists. Divers can expect to see the Green turtle and over 1,000 varying fish species.
4. The Maldives
The coral reefs in the Maldives are famous for their vibrant collection of marine life that includes sea turtles, manta rays, giant clams, and a myriad of fish. The Maldives is comprised of 1,200 islands and 26 atolls - a real tropical paradise that attracts a million tourists every year. Even though the corals have experienced significant bleaching in 1998 during the El Niño climate event, conservation efforts are said to be widely successful at restoring the ecosystem.
5. The Hawaiian Coral Reef
The Hawaiian reef systems are among the most isolated in the world, which is why over a quarter of the species that inhabit the reefs (around 1.250) are unique to Hawaii. Over seven thousand plant and animal species inhabit the reefs, among which is the Humuhumunukunukuapua‘a, Hawaii's state fish. On the main islands alone, there are 410,000 acres of coral reef, which takes up more territory than the entire landmass of Oahu.
6. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, the Philippines
The Tubbataha Reefs in the Philippines is another must-see diving site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. The natural park consists of the coral reef, extensive lagoons, and two coral islands. The reef is on two atolls that are home to 360 coral species. At Tubbataha, divers can observe a variety of marine life: 600 species of fish, including 11 sharks, as well as 13 species of dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and birds.
7. Taveuni Rainbow Reef, Fiji
Image Source: Doug Finney/ Flickr
The Rainbow Reef is located off the coast of Taveuni, the third largest island in Fiji, which is often also referred to as the “garden island” due to the diversity of marine life found on the reef. The luminescent corals and colorful sponges create an unforgettable kaleidoscope of color and texture.
But let’s not forget about the marine animals - divers often encounter leopard sharks, butterfly-fish, barracudas, eel, and 1,200 other fish species. Between 230 and 300 species of soft and hard coral of various shapes and colors create truly fantastical beauty here, a sight that completely warrants the catchy name of the reef.
Related Article: The Beautiful Colors of Coral Reefs
8. Andaman Sea Reefs, India
On the edge of the Indian Ocean is the Andaman Sea, a sea that connects India with the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar, Malaysia, and Thailand. The sea is the most biodiverse area in the region, brimming with coral reefs, seagrass beds, marine lakes and valleys, and mangroves. Coral reefs surround the majority of the 500 islands in the Andaman Sea.
These reefs consist of 200 coral species, mostly a mixture of branching and massive corals. Around 400 species of tropical fish inhabit these reefs, although it needs to be pointed out that the biodiversity in this region isn’t investigated or documented, so you can always expect to see surprises.
9. Bonaire Reef, Dutch Caribbean
The island of Bonaire, in the Dutch Caribbean, is ringed by a coral reef people often call ‘The Diver’s Paradise.’ Compared to the other reefs on the list, the total of 60 coral species found in Bonaire may not sound impressive at first. However, the corals in the area come in a wide range of colors and types - fire corals, brain corals, gorgonians, and elkhorn corals - and this creates a whole palette of marine biodiversity.
You’re sure to catch some parrotfish, sea turtle, groupers, angelfish, surgeonfish, reef perch, and seahorses if you even decide to visit Bonaire.
10. Raja Ampat Reef, Indonesia
No list of coral reefs would be complete without mentioning the Raja Ampat Reef in Indonesia, the “Crown Jewel” of the western Pacific Coral Triangle, the area in the world with 75% of all known coral species. This reef surrounds the beautiful Raja Ampat archipelago on the border of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Not only is the archipelago a must-see site in itself - it consists of hundreds of tall volcanic islands covered in jungles - it is also the place you will find the most vibrant and diverse coral reefs on the planet. There is a total of 450 species of reef-building coral in Raja Ampat, as well as 1,427 kinds of fish. Needless to say, this tropical paradise is on the top of the list for most, if not all, diving enthusiasts.
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