Belize Diving Services

Caribbean Coral Identification: Different Types of Coral Reefs

There are many different types of coral in the beautiful waters surrounding Belize. Most scuba divers yearn to discover the wonders of Belize marine life and the best place to look is a coral reef. Belizean waters are known to have 65 coral species and more than 300 fish species — making it one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Whether you’re heading out for your first scuba dive training class or are hoping to glimpse a never before seen species, you’ll find an abundance of life while exploring the Belize coastal waters.

According to the NOAA,

“About 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs.”

Due to the vast array of hidden systems tucked deep inside coral reefs, only about 10% has been explored and it is estimated that about 90% of all reef species have yet to be discovered.

Types of Coral Reefs

Fringing Reefs

fringing reef

A fringing reef is by far the most common type of coral reef. It is distinct in that it grows outward from the shoreline and is typically more common in areas with many islands.

Barrier Reefs

barrier reefs

Another type of coral reef is known as a barrier reef. A barrier reef runs parallel to the shoreline with a deep channel of water separating it from the coast. The Belize Barrier Reef near San Pedro is composed of over 900 islands with an expansive variety of marine life.



Atolls are rings of coral which form what are known as lagoons out in the middle of the sea. When land surrounded by a fringing reef begins to sink, atolls begin to form. Located about one hour from Caye Caulker by boat, Turneffe Atoll is the largest and most biologically diverse atoll in Belize.

The Formation of Coral Reefs

While there are many different types of coral reefs, they all share a similar biological structure. Coral larvae swimming freely in the sea will attach themselves to hard surfaces, such as rocks, near the edge of an island or larger mass of land. Coral polyps leave behind skeletons from underneath their skin which are then used by other coral polyps to attach themselves and repeat the process. Algae from the coral’s tissues are used to create the energy needed to create coral reefs. The calcium carbonate-based skeletons serve as shelter for different aquatic animals. Coral reefs require saltwater and grow most efficiently in warm water, in the range of 70 degrees to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Explore Coral Reefs with Belize Diving Services

different types of coral reefs

The waters surrounding Belize are rich with coral reefs. You can explore these different categories of coral reefs on one of our scuba diving tours. Our certified instructors take divers out by boat to some of the best dive sites in the world. Book your scuba training or tour with Belize Diving Services to experience the wonders of coral reefs for yourself!