Atolls in the Atlantic

Cayo de Agua, Venezuela

The Atlantic Ocean is one of the few places in the world where you can see coral atolls.

In this part of the World Ocean there are both real and pseudo-atolls.

The last we have already described in details in another article so now we would like to pay more attention to the real atolls, whose number, however, is incomparably smaller here than it is in the Pacific or Indian Oceans.

South Atlantic

The South Atlantic extends south of the equator.

To the west it washes the shores of South America, and to the east – the southern half of Africa.

This part of the ocean has a relatively small number of islands, especially considering the huge area it covers.

Bearing in mind this fact, it is not surprising that there is just one atoll in this part of the ocean.


Rocas Atoll, Brazil

Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, Brazil
Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, Brazil by photo pantai

The Rocas Atoll falls within the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, which is of volcanic origin.

It is located just over 230 kilometers east of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte, but it actually belongs to the Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

The place is an important biological reserve and falls within the Fernando de Noronha Marine National Park, which is under the auspices of UNESCO.

The Rocas Atoll has a slightly elliptical shape, and for the most part, it is covered by water.

Parts of the coral ring, however, has gradually reached the ocean surface.

As a result of the accumulated snow-white coral sand, small and covered with sparse vegetation islets have been formed.

The ring-shaped lagoon is bustling with different forms of marine life.

Food in abundance and protection is what the sea creatures are able to find here.

However, above the water this place is full of life too.

It is home to numerous species of birds nesting here.

The small Brazilian paradise is also famous for the fact that it is the nearest to the equator atoll in the world.

North Atlantic

The North Atlantic is located north of the equator.

To the east it washes the shores of North Africa and Western Europe, and to the West – the shores of North America and parts of South America.

This part of the Atlantic is very rich in islands and has a huge variety of species of corals.

However, the number of atolls is relatively small.

Although there are more than 7000 islands only in the Caribbean Sea (the number does not include the Bahamas, whose number is nearly the same), the atolls are actually something very rare to see.

Scientists say their number varies between 20 and 30 but even today is very difficult anyone to give a definite answer to the question how many exactly they are.


Los Roques, Venezuela

Los Roques paradise beach, Venezuela
Los Roques paradise beach, Venezuela by Alessandro Caproni

The atoll of Los Roques covers the majority of the eponymous archipelago, which is located less than 130 kilometers north of the coast of Venezuela.

Initially, the reef appeared in the shallow waters along the coast of a volcanic island.

Over the years the volcano gradually disappeared under the sea surface.

The coral reef, however, not only survived, but furthermore it even continued to grow.

Today over the ocean surface you can see just a small part of the coral reef that once surrounded the island.

Los Roques is known for its crystal clear waters, snow-white coral sand, and hard-to-describe biodiversity.

Of all the islands here, only El Gran Roque is inhabited, while all the others are completely deserted.

Los Roques atoll
Los Roques atoll by Alessandro Caproni

In 1972, Los Roques archipelago was declared a national park because of its great biodiversity.

Today this is the largest marine national park in the whole of Latin America.

Besides an important place for marine animals, the archipelago, which barely protrude above the surface of the ocean, is of great importance for the breeding of many species of birds.

The atoll is a popular diving hot spot.

Aerial View of Archipelago Los Roques
Aerial View of Archipelago Los Roques by Alessandro Caproni

However, because of the special protected status of the area, tourists should pay a special attention to their behavior and should keep the natural environment clean.

Moreover, here you can find without doubt the most beautiful and irresistible beaches in Venezuela and one of the most beautiful in the whole of the Americas.

Las Aves Sotavento and Las Aves Barlovento, Venezuela

Los Roques Beach, Venezuela
Los Roques Beach, Venezuela by Alessandro Caproni

About 130 km off the coast of Venezuela are located the atolls of Las Aves Sotavento and Las Aves Barlovento, which are distanced about 15 km from each other.

– Las Aves Sotavento has a diameter at the widest part of a little over than 12 kilometers.

It is located in the west. It has an irregular shape and consists of several islands with small altitude, scarce vegetation and out-of-this-world beaches.

See also  11 Most Beautiful Atolls in the World

– Las Aves Barlovento is smaller in diameter, reaching just over 9 km.

Cayo de Agua beach, Venezuela
Cayo de Agua beach, Venezuela by Márcio Cabral de Moura

It has a regular ring shape and is famous for the mangrove forests and the large number of birds that nest here.

Las Aves Sotavento and Las Aves Barlovento are both very beautiful and attract wildlife lovers.

Since there is no tourist facilities, however, the islands are not a subject to mass tourism.

However, their coral reef are among the most preserved in the region of the Caribbean Sea.


Cayo Albuquerque and Cayo Bolivar, San Andres, Colombia

Atoll in San Andres archipelago
Atoll in San Andres archipelago by Eugenio Celedon

San Andres archipelago is a great example of a place to find beautiful atolls in the Caribbean Sea.

The islands are located not far from the coast of Nicaragua.

It is important to say that the archipelago is one of the hottest tourist destinations of Colombia, and every year it attracts a large number of visitors.

The major landmark in the archipelago are its coral atolls, which are actually something very rare to see in the Caribbean basin.

Las Playas de San Andres Isla, Colombia
Las Playas de San Andres Isla, Colombia by IMAGEN09

The most famous in the archipelago are Cayo Albuquerque and Cayo Bolivar.

They offer some of the most beautiful sandy beaches you could imagine.

The vegetation is dominated by the most typical species of trees for this type of islands – the coconut palm trees.

The atolls of San Andres are a favorite hot spot for divers but they also attract many scientists who want to study the biodiversity of the region.

Roncador Bank, Colombia

Roncador Bank is a part of the archipelago of San Andres, but unlike Cayo Albuquerque and Cayo Bolivar, it enjoys less popularity as a tourist destination.

The reason is that for the most part it is actually situated below the sea surface.

Only a few very small sandy islands protrude above the water to remind how white the coral sand in this area could be.

Although some of the islands are devoid of vegetation, others are covered by coconut palms and herbaceous vegetation.

The place is known for the amazing beauty of its coral lagoon, which at the longest part is about 15 km.

Serranilla Bank, Colombia

(claims by the US, Honduras and Nicaragua)

Serranilla Bank, which is located halfway between Jamaica to the northeast and the Central American countries of Honduras and Nicaragua to the southwest, is a well-shaped atoll, which for the most part lies below the sea surface with some exceptions.

The small pieces of land are practically deserted, with the exception of the occasional visitors who sometimes come here, attracted by the azure water, preserved coral reefs and white sand.

Coconut palms and low herbaceous vegetation are the only species of plants that survive here.

Isolated of populated areas, the reef is a place where the marine life flourishes undisturbed.

The ecosystem is a shelter for a huge number of rare creatures.

Bajo Nuevo Bank, Colombia

(Territorial dispute between Colombia, the United States, Jamaica, Nicaragua)

Bajo Nuevo is located halfway between Jamaica and Nicaragua, a little closer to Jamaica.

Like many other atolls in the area, today it is administered by Colombia.

It has a total length of 25 kilometers, making it one of the largest in the region.

But this is a little misleading because upon closer examination you could see it consists of two different ring-shaped reefs, which are clearly separated from each other.

Since the area is practically unsettled, the coral reefs thrive undisturbed.

The lack of growing tourism industry helps corals and other sea creatures to grow in a peaceful and healthy environment.

Bajo Nuevo is in its large part covered by the waters of the Caribbean Sea.

However, it has also some dry land above the surface.

The combination of white coral sand and azure sea waters has become a symbol of Bajo Nuevo.

The vegetation is mostly presented by grass and diversified only by some occasional coconut tree.

Quita Sueño Bank, Colombia

Quita Sueño is located near the Colombian tropical paradise of Providencia.

This is an underwater atoll and is therefore unsettled.

It has an irregular shape and unlike most ring-shaped reefs, this one is known for its slightly curved crescent shape.

Serrana Bank, Colombia

Serrana is a well developed atoll with a highly irregular shape.

It consists of a number of small size islands with low altitude.

Even if very small, however, they are all really adorable.

For the most part, the islands are covered with green vegetation, including coconut palm trees.

With their white sandy beaches and transparent waters, they look like the perfect tropical paradise.

See also  Australian Atolls in the Indian Ocean

Even if the islands are sparsely populated, they could have a very good tourist potential because of their natural beauty.

The total length of the reef is nearly 50 kilometers in the longest part.

Alice Shoal, Colombia

This coral atoll, which is administrated by Colombia is of interest only to scientists and oceanographers.

The reason is that it is completely submerged under the ocean surface.

The reef is rich in sea creatures, but its natural beauty can’t be seen without a special equipment because the most shallow part of the reef is located 11 meters below sea level.


Banco Chinchorro, Mexico

Banco Chinchorro (Chinchorro Bank) is a beautiful atoll, which is located a little more than 30 kilometers from the coast of the state of Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.

This place is one of the few excellent examples in the Caribbean of how an atoll looks like.

Located far from large urban areas, today the coral ring flourishes undisturbed far from pollution and human influence.

The nowadays reef had been grown around an already non-existing island, long before it sank beneath the ocean surface.

Banco Chinchorro has an elongated elliptical shape and with some exceptions is mostly submerged under the sea surface.

The flora is represented mainly by palm trees and mangrove vegetation.

With its beautiful reefs and their countless colors, Banco Chinchorro attracts divers and lovers of snorkeling from around the world.

The lack of tourist infrastructure, however, prevents the development of mass tourism.

Alacranes, Mexico

Alacranes is a small atoll, which is located north of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

It has almost perfect oval ring shape.

It is known at the only atoll in the Gulf of Mexico.

Located about 120 kilometers north of the coast of the country, the closest major city in the region is Merida.

Even if very well shaped, the majority of Alacranes lies under water.

Only a few tiny islands are visible above the surface of the gulf.

Some are covered with sparse shrubs, while others have tempting shady groves of coconut palm trees.

The beaches are really beautiful, covered with white coral sand.

The azure waters of the coral lagoon are bustling with life, which is a good basis for the development of tourism.

Surprisingly, despite its natural beauty, the place is almost deserted.


Glover’s Reef, Belize

Glover's reef atoll, Belize
Glover’s reef atoll, Belize by anoldent

Belize is the place to find the second largest coral reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Not far from mainland Belize, approximately 40 kilometers off the coast, you will find one of the most beautiful atolls in the Western Hemisphere – Glover’s Reef.

It is elongated in a northeast – southwest direction. Inside the reef there is a relatively shallow lagoon, which is full of marine life.

Above the water today can be seen only a few small islands with snow-white coral sand.

The place attracts tourists basically as a hotspot for divers and for people seeking some privacy and tranquility.

Lighthouse Reef, Belize

Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Blackbird Caye, Belize
Hawksbill Sea Turtle – Blackbird Caye, Belize by Adam

Even if you have never heard of Lighthouse Reef, you must have seen this paradise at least once in internet or on TV without realizing.

The place is located a little less than 70 km from Belize City, in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.

It has a highly elongated irregular shape.

Beaches around West Snake Caye, Belize
Beaches around West Snake Caye, Belize by Chris H

The ring of the atoll surrounds a shallow lagoon with azure blue waters.

Besides beautiful coral reefs and thousands of species of marine life, this place is known for something very interesting.

This is where you will find the Great Blue Hole.

Caye Caulker Belize
Caye Caulker Belize by f. ermert

This is perhaps best known coral formation on the planet and astounds with its perfect ring shape.

This is one of the attractions that make the Lighthouse Reef one of the best places to dive on the planet.

According to the Discovery Channel, the hole that reaches a depth of 125 meters, is among the 10 most amazing places on the planet for 2012.

Lighthouse Reef  enjoys a great popularity but its ability to accommodates visitors is limited.

This has its good sides because visitors can find more privacy.

Turneffe Reef, Belize

Ocean Sunrise Blackbird Caye, Belize
Ocean Sunrise Blackbird Caye, Belize by Adam

Turneffe is the closest situated to the mainland coast of all three atolls of Belize. In the closest part it is separated at about 30 kilometers from the coast of Belize City.

It is also at the initial stage of formation and part of its inner lagoon is actually still occupied by sinking pieces of land and mangrove vegetation.

The islands that form Turneffe Reef are home to a large number of waterfowl.

See also  20 Mind-Blowing Facts about Palmyra Atoll

They easily find food in the shallow waters of the lagoon and especially among the mangrove vegetation.

Like the other two atolls in Belize, this one also has a highly elongated shape in a north-south direction.

Because of its white sands and coconut palms trees casting a pleasant shade over the beach, it is a very popular tourist destination.

Blue Hole, Belize
Blue Hole, Belize by The TerraMar Project

It is mostly visited by tourists seeking for a typical Caribbean scenery and warm climate.

This is a hotspot for divers because of the huge variety of species of marine animals, birds and corals.

Tourists are offered a variety of services related to visiting coral reefs, diving for experienced and beginners, snorkeling, rental of equipment and others.

Yet if you expect to find huge hotel complexes, nightlife and other similar attractions, it would be better to look elsewhere.

Here, at this peace and quiet paradise, the main attraction is the pure nature, crystal clear waters, beautiful weather, white beaches and clean high quality food offered in the luxurious and at the same time casual atmosphere of the small number of local restaurants.


Hogsty, Bahamas

Norman's Pond Cay, Bock Cay, Bahamas
Norman’s Pond Cay, Bock Cay, Bahamas by Christina Hawkins

Hogsty is the only true atoll in the archipelago of the Bahamas (we’ll talk about that a little later).

At its widest part Hogsty has a diameter of just over 8 km.

It is almost completely submerged below the water, with only one or two small islands protruding above the water surface.

It has a kind of rhombus shape.

Cayman Islands

The Misteriosa Bank, Cayman Islands

The Misteriosa Bank is one of the least popular atolls in the Caribbean and Atlantic Basin as a whole.

It falls within the Cayman Islands.

The reason for its low popularity is quite simple to explain. It is entirely submerged below the water surface.

The lagoon is approximately 20 meters deep.

Undetermined status territories

Rosalind Bank

Cayo de Agua, Venezuela
Cayo de Agua, Venezuela by Renzo Borgatti

Rosalind Bank is well shaped coral atoll located in a shoal between Jamaica and Honduras.

It lies below the surface and, unlike many others in various parts of the world, it doesn’t protrude above the water.

In its closest part to the surface, it is located at a depth of 22 meters.

Pseudo-atolls in the Atlantic Ocean

Many islands in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean are wrongly called atolls, while they do not meet the generally accepted definition.

Their similarity in some cases actually is really astonishing and even seems obvious.

However, scientists are very clear and what they say is well-grounded.

In many cases we are actually talking about something we have to call more precisely pseudo-atoll.

This, generally speaking, is an island that strongly resembles an atoll, but has a very different origin.

Interestingly, some of the most popular tourist destinations in the world fall into this group.


The Bahamas are often described as an archipelago composed of 7,000 atolls.

However, this question raises a heated debate between scientists and still there is no unanimity and a statement they all to agree with.

Despite of the amazing beauty of the Bahamas, and despite they strikingly resemble coral islands, according to most scientists, the islands are actually of completely different origin.

For example, true atolls are formed when a volcanic or another island sink but the surrounding coral reefs remain close to the ocean surface or in some cases they even grow up and protrude over it.

They gradually turn into the only part of the island that is visible above the water or at least lies close to the ocean surface.

At the same time, while the reef is growing, the former island is gradually disappearing below the surface.

But this was not the case with the Bahamas.

Actually, the coral reefs of the Bahamas are too young to be able to talk about atolls.

18,000 years ago, during the last ice age, the Bahamas Islands were part of a much more massive piece of dry land.

Over the millennia, as a result of the increased level of the world ocean, most of the land remained under the water surface.

As a result, today we only see a small part of this limestone plate – the Bahamas.

These islands are not of coral but rather of continental origin.


Surf Bay, Bermuda
Surf Bay, Bermuda by kansasphoto

Although Bermuda is often called an atoll by many, the island actually only resembles one.

As a result of its different origins, it doesn’t meet the definition of atoll.

The island, which is a popular tourist destination, is actually the edge of a sinking volcanic crater.

Around the volcanic rim has formed a beautiful coral reef, which is also the most northern on the planet.