If you are an aquaphilic person and have already explored the many beaches, mesmerizing islands, and beautiful lagoons, your next stop should definitely be the atolls. So what are atolls? Atolls are natural creations with unparalleled beauty. It is a thin piece of land that is surrounded by water from the inside and from the outside. This phenomenon occurs due to the growth of tropical marine organisms on a volcanic island that sinks. A ring of coral naturally develops around an island’s shoreline and continues to develop further upward, taking over the island, and causing it to erode away slowly. So basically atolls are made from corals and not from soil. Corals flourish only in warm waters, hence atolls can only be found in warm tropical and subtropical waters. 

Formation Of Atolls

Best atolls
Breathtaking views of atolls from above.
  • Atolls develop with underwater volcanoes, called seamounts. This happens when the erupted volcano piles up on the seafloor.
  • Due to the continuous eruption of the volcano, the seamount’s elevation grows higher.
  • Eventually, the volcano eruptions break the surface of the water and the top of the volcano becomes an oceanic island.
  • Gradually, tiny sea animals called corals begin to build a reef around the island.
  • Coral reefs surround the island just below the ocean surface and the thin, shallow strip of water between the fringing reef and the island is the lagoon.
  • Over a period of time, the volcanic island erodes and sinks to the seafloor and the flat-topped seamount is called a guyot.
  • Its ring-shaped fringing reef turns into a barrier reef as the island subsides to become a guyot.
  • A barrier reef is farther from shore and has a deeper lagoon that protects the lagoon from the harsh winds and waves of the open ocean.
  • The outer ocean-facing side of the reef remains a healthy marine ecosystem. However, the corals on the inner lagoon-facing side begin to slowly decay.
  • The limestone decays change the color of the lagoon from deep ocean blue to bright teal.
  • In the last stage of an atoll’s formation, ocean waves break apart pieces of the limestone reef and they pound, break, and erode the coral into tiny grains of sand.
  • This sand and other material deposited by waves or wind pile up on the reefs to form a ring-shaped island or islet called an atoll.

7 Captivating Atolls To Look Out For

As the corals live in the warm tropical and subtropical waters, most of the atolls are located in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Here’s a list of some of the most majestic creations of nature that are truly captivating.

Bikini Atoll

what are atolls
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Bikini Atoll located in the northwestern part of the Marshall Islands has astonishing beaches which are covered with white coral sand. Despite the fact that this place has exceptional beauty, it is not a popular tourist destination. The main reason for this is the multiple nuclear tests that were conducted both under and above water. However, scientists say that this atoll is safe to visit now as radiation is much less than compared in previous years. Further studies show that this place is considered safe if people stay only for a short period of time and is not recommended for permanent residence. Most visitors travel to the Bikini atoll for underwater photography of the old sunken vessels and to capture wrecks from the nuclear tests.

Kure Atoll

atoll reefs
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Kure Atoll or Ocean Island is an atoll in the Pacific Ocean which belongs to Hawaii. A coral ring that is six miles across encloses a lagoon several meters deep. It is the most remote of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and is the world’s northernmost atoll. This oval-shaped atoll is 6 miles at its maximum diameter and 55 miles west-northwest of Midway Atoll. There is only one permanent island (Green Island) in the atoll which has no inhabitants. Occasionally it is inhabited by small crews of two to eight volunteers and biologists come here to restore and manage the native ecosystem. Despite its northern location and relatively cool waters, Kure Atoll is a nesting area for shearwaters, petrels, tropicbirds, boobies, frigate birds, albatrosses, terns, and noddies. 

Ari Atoll

Beautiful turquoise Indian ocean sea with white sand.

Ari Atoll is a natural atoll located 100 km west of the capital of Maldives. With more than 20 islands, this is one of the biggest atolls and one of the most popular tourist destinations. Each of these islands has tourist resorts that are self-contained with accommodation and recreational facilities. At first glance, Ari atoll looks to have an oval shape but actually, the outer rings are dotted lines of numerous small islands. The underwater visibility here is more than 50 meters, hence considered to be the best destination for scuba diving. Hundreds of species of corals, numerous species of fish, sea creatures, prestigious resorts, and world-class diving experiences are the main attractions here. This is undoubtedly one of the most expensive and luxurious vacation spots on the planet.

Male Atoll

atoll reef,
Panoramic view of atolls from a seaplane

The most wonderful corner of the earth, the Maldives boasts 26 dreamy atolls, and one among them is Male atoll. Malé Atoll, a truly timeless place, is an administrative atoll in the Republic of Maldives. It is divided into two separate atolls: North Malé Atoll and South Malé Atoll. North Malé Atoll is a diver’s paradise where you’ll find some of the most exciting surf breaks in the Maldives. The wonderful atoll reefs with rich marine fauna are a great place for snorkeling as well as diving. Here you get to experience the captivating sea in all its watercolors. From shades of green and blue to turning a wonderful shade of pink in the evenings is something you’ve never seen before. 

Kwajalein Atoll

what is an atoll
Ebeye island at Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall islands

Kwajalein Atoll, also known as Kwajalong, is located in the chain of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, in the west-central Pacific Ocean. It is the world’s largest atoll which comprises 97 islands and islets which are surrounded by giant atoll lagoons. Access to the island is restricted as it is the Defense missile research and testing site of the US Department. Though this place is not accessible to the general public, Kwajalein is home to around 1,800 Americans. It’s a fully functioning community that has a bank, post office, shops, schools, and a small hospital. People who live here basically work for the US Department of Defense. To visit or stay in Kwaj, one needs to have a sponsor person or family who resides here.  Scuba diving, snorkeling, and playing tennis, and volleyball are some of the popular pastimes for island residents.

Aitutaki Atoll

atolls meaning
“One Foot Island in Aitutaki, part of the Cook Islands.”

Aitutaki, located more than 3,000 kilometers northeast of New Zealand is the second most visited place on the Cook Islands. With approximately 2,000 people residing here, Aitutaki is full of life. A picture-perfect island with palm beaches, a turquoise central lagoon, and a surrounding barrier reef makes it one of the most beautiful places in the world. The island offers less variety than other destinations but its year-round good weather and temperatures make this place a paradise on earth. Spared from mass tourism this place is generally very quiet.  The combination of crystal clear waters and a vast variety of corals and species of tropical fish attracts snorkelers and underwater photographers from around the world. It is also one of the best dive sites on the planet, with underwater visibility exceeding 50 meters.

Rangiroa Atoll

what are coral islands
Aerial view of the tropical islet with lagoon and channel, Avatoru pass, an atoll of Rangiroa, Tuamotu archipelago, French Polynesia

With about 415 tiny islets and sandbars comprising a total land area of about 170 sq km, Rangiroa atoll is one of the largest coral atolls not only in French Polynesia but on the planet. There is a chain of more than 400 coral islands which are located very close to each other in a row to create a well-shaped ring of coral islands. Its snow-white coral sand, shady palm groves, and crystal-clear lagoon embody the idea of paradise on earth. The clyster clear water and the diverse marine fauna make this place a major underwater diving destination. About 200 shark specimens, bottlenose dolphins, green sea turtles, and stingrays live in the waters here. It also offers countless scuba diving sites and lots of hotels and guesthouses to accommodate the large number of tourists who come here every year. 

All these places are far away from the hustle and bustle of modern civilization. So go ahead and plan your next trip to any of these beautiful atolls for solitude and tranquility. Do share your experience in the comment box below. 

How many atolls are in the world?

There are approximately 440 atolls in the world and most of them are in the Pacific Ocean.

Which is better North atoll or south atoll?

Technically, north atolls are a bit harder to dive, but south atolls with less current and shallower water are great for less experienced divers.

Which country has the most atolls?

The dream destination of many, Maldives is made up of about 1,200 tiny coral islands grouped into 26 atolls.

What is the difference between an atoll and an island?

Island is a piece of land surrounded by water, while atolls are surrounded by water from the inside and outside.

Are there any atolls in the Caribbean?

Off the coast of Belize, there are four atolls: Banco Chinchorro, Turneffe Islands, Lighthouse Reef, and Glover’s Reef.


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