What is an atoll? An atoll is defined as a ring-shaped coral reef that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. In other words: An atoll is a thin piece of land that surrounds water on the inside while being surrounded by water on the outside. This is also what makes atoll distinguishable from an ordinary island. While an island is just a piece of land surrounded by water, atoll contains another body of water inside. Another important thing to know about atolls is that they are actually not made from soil but corals. The corals have to grow fast enough to replace the parts of the atoll that have already eroded away to keep the landmass stable. As corals only thrive in warm waters, atolls can only be found in the tropics and subtropics. Consequently, atolls are unique coral land masses made up by crystal clear lagoons and spectacular colorful reefs brimming with amazing marine life. Doesn’t that sound exciting! Get ready to go on a spectacular journey to the tropics. From marvelous Aitutaki Atoll in the Cook Islands to unearthly beautiful atolls in the Maldives, let us show you 25 Of The Most Amazing Atolls In The World.
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Takapoto, French Polynesia
Measuring 20 km by 7 km (12 mi by 4 mi), Takapoto is an atoll found in the Tuamoto atoll group in French Polynesia. Discovered by a Dutch mariner Jacob Le Maire in 1616, the atoll is now home to about 380 people.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Populated by approximately 2,000 people, Aitutaki is the second most visited island of the Cook Islands. Spared from mass tourism, the atoll is famous for its turquoise central lagoon and picturesque palm-fringed beaches.
Ulithi, Caroline Islands
A part of the Federated States of Micronesia, Ulithi is an atoll consisting of 40 islets surrounding one of the largest lagoons in the world. The atoll was a major staging area for the U.S. Navy in the WWII. Several sunken warships still rest at the bottom of the lagoon.
Located in the middle of Sulu Sea, Tubbataha is a marine and bird sanctuary consisting of two large atolls – North Atoll and South Atoll. The protected area boasts remarkable biodiversity containing 75% of described coral species and 40% of world’s reef fish.
Tarawa is an atoll and the capital of the Republic of Kiribati in the central Pacific Ocean. Home to almost 60,000 people, the atoll has a wide reef abundant in fish and a large lagoon spanning over 500 sq km (200 sq mi).
Tikehau, French Polynesia
Located 340 km (210 mi) northeast of Tahiti in the Tuamotu Islands, Tikehau is an oval-shaped atoll and a touristic destination popular for its pink sand beaches fringed with coconut palms and stunning marine fauna and flora.
Part of the Kaafu Atoll, Maafushi is one of the inhabited islands of the Maldives. The atoll was heavily damaged by a tsunami in 2004 but it quickly recovered. These days, Maafushi boasts a thriving local economy based on fishing and tourism.
St. Francois Atoll, Seychelles
Consisting of two islands St. François and Bijoutier Island, St. Francois Atoll is an uninhabited atoll in western Indian Ocean. The atoll is home to numerous bird species including black-naped tern, whimbrel, ruddy turnstone, grey plover etc.
Rangiroa, French Polynesia
One of the largest atolls in the world, Rangiroa consists of about 415 tiny islets and sandbars comprising a total land area of about 170 sq km (65 sq mi). In the center of the atoll, there is a large lagoon where black pearl oysters are bred.
Palmyra Atoll, Equatorial Northern Pacific
Located between Hawaii and American Samoa, Palmyra Atoll is an unoccupied atoll consisting of an extensive reef, lagoons and 50 islets. Officially administrated by the US, the atoll is covered with coconut trees, Scaevola plants and Pisonia trees.
Nukuoro, Federated States of Micronesia
Surrounding a lagoon of 6 km (3.7 mi) in diameter, Nukuoro is a remote atoll inhabited by nearly 400 people. The island has no tourism except for the occasional visit by passing sailing yachts.
Ontog Java Atoll, Solomon Islands
Sometimes also referred to as Lord Howe Atoll, Ontog Java Atoll is a large, boot-shaped atoll made up by over 120 low-lying islets. There are two main villages on the atoll – Luaniua and Pelau – where most of the atoll´s population lives.
Nukumanu, Papua New Guinea
Formerly known as the Tasman Islands, Nukumanu is a medium-sized atoll of Papua New Guinea, located in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean, 4 degrees south of the equator. The atoll consists of 20 sandy islets surrounding a large lagoon.
Lihou Reef, Coral Sea Islands Territory
Located in the Coral Sea, northeast of Queensland, Australia, Lihou Reef is the world´s second largest atoll by total area. Surrounding a lagoon extending over an area of 2,500 sq km (965 sq mi), the atoll is an important nesting area for many bird species.
Cayo Bolivar, Colombia
Situated 25 km (16 mi) from San Andrés, a Colombian coral island in the Caribbean Sea, Cay Bolivar is an uninhabited atoll consisting of two islands – East Cay and West Cay. Its abundant marine life and beautiful beaches makes it a popular site for tourist excursions.
Uninhabited and extremely isolated, Aldabra is a large atoll virtually untouched by humans. Known as one of “crown jewels” of the Indian Ocean, it has a distinctive island fauna including the largest population of giant tortoises in the world.
Ari Atoll, Maldives
Ari Atoll is a natural atoll found in the Maldives. It is one of the biggest atolls and is located in the west of the archipelago. There are more than 20 islands in the atoll designated for tourist resorts, each of them self-contained with accommodation and recreational facilities.
Bangaram Atoll, India
Located in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, India, Bangaram Atoll is a popular tourist destination offering numerous adventure activities, including scuba diving, snorkeling and deep sea fishing. It has white sand beaches, a calm lagoon and stunning coral reefs.
Chagos Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory
Chagos Islands is a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual tropical islands in the Indian Ocean. Notable for a remarkable biodiversity, the reefs host at least 371 species of coral, 784 species of fish and 2 species of turtles.
Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Hawaii
Part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the Pearl and Hermes Atoll is a small Hawaiian atoll named after two English whaleships that wrecked there in 1822. Once a pearl trade center, the atoll now serves as a bird sanctuary.
Osprey Reef, Coral Sea Islands Territory
Part of the Northwestern Group of the Coral Sea Islands, Osprey Reef is an oval submerged atoll in the Coral Sea. Rising from a depth of 2 km (1.2 mi), its reef walls are home to diverse marine life including a rare dwarf form of Nautilus Pompilius.
Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory
Located in central Indian Ocean, just 7 degrees south of the equator, Diego Garcia Atoll was settled by the French in the 1790s and was transferred to British rule later. It features the largest continuous dryland rim of all atolls in the world.
Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands
Part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kwajalein is one of the world’s largest atolls as measured by area of enclosed water. Comprising 97 islands and islets, it has a land area of 16 km² (6.3 mi²) and surrounds a giant lagoon, with an area of 2174 km² (839 mi²).
Kure Atoll, Hawaii
Politically belonging to Hawaii, Kure Atoll is the world´s northernmost atoll (it lies at 28°25′N). Sometimes also referred to as the Ocean Island, the atoll is habitat for hundreds of thousands of seabirds and numerous marine animals including the Hawaiian monk seal.
Ducie Island, Pitcairn Islands
Located in the south Pacific Ocean, Ducie Island is a little uninhabited atoll in the Pitcairn Islands. Despite its sparse vegetation, the atoll is home to a number of bird species. More than 90% of the world population of Murphy’s petrel nests on Ducie.