Geographical Distribution

coral, world map

World Distribution of Coral Reefs


  • Reef-building corals are found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world

Reef corals are found throughout tropical and subtropical oceans in the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic, normally between the Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer (30ºS, 30ºN latitude). However, they also occur outside this range where warm water currents travel outside this band, as is the case where the Gulf Stream Current brings warm tropical water from the Caribbean north to the islands of Bermuda.


  • Florida Reef Tract is the third largest barrier reef in the world

coral, florida keys

Florida reef tract. Photo courtesy Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Along the Atlantic coast of Florida, Oculina reefs dominate in the north, transitioning southward to tropical reefs. South and west of Miami, offshore of the Florida Keys archipelago, is the only tropical coral reef found along the North American coastline. This region, also known as the Florida Reef Tract, is the third largest barrier reef system in the world. Toward the coastline, these reefs are surrounded by the Florida Keys, Biscayne Bay, and Florida Bay. Moving out to sea from the reef is the Florida Current. This current brings tropical waters into the area that moderate winter water temperatures as well as large volumes of plankton and larvae-rich water from the Caribbean.

Glossary terms on page

  • coral, plankton

    Plankton. Photo courtesy National Marine Fisheries Service

    tropical: tropical zone lies between 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator, has small seasonal changes in temperature and large seasonal changes in precipitation.
  • subtropical: area on the surface of the earth between tropic and temperate regions, approximately between 40 degrees N. and S.
  • Florida Reef Tract: the third largest barrier reef in the world, running from the Miami area southwest to the Dry Tortugas.
  • Florida Current: the segment of current between the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current and the Gulf Stream form the Dry Tortugas to the southeastern tip of Florida, and confined by the 250 meter and 500 meter isobaths.
  • plankton: organisms dependent on water movement and currents as their means of transportation, including phytoplankton, zooplankton, and ichthyoplankton.
  • larvae: immature form of an animal that undergoes metamorphosis prior to changing into the adult form.