Scleractinian corals, the main framework builders of coral reefs, are in serious global decline, although there remains significant uncertainty as to the consequences for individual species and particular regions. We assessed coral species richness and ranked relative abundance across 3075 depth-stratified survey sites, each < 0.5 ha in area, using a standardized rapid assessment method, in 31 Indo-West Pacific (IWP) coral ecoregions (ERs), from 1994 to 2016. The ecoregions cover a significant proportion of the ranges of most IWP reef coral species, including main centres of diversity, providing a baseline (albeit a shifted one) of species abundance over a large area of highly endangered reef systems, facilitating study of future change. In all, 672 species were recorded. The richest sites and ERs were all located in the Coral Triangle. Local (site) richness peaked at 224 species in Halmahera ER (IWP mean 71 species Standard Deviation 38 species). Nineteen species occurred in more than half of all sites, all but one occurring in more than 90% of ERs. Representing 13 genera, these widespread species exhibit a broad range of life histories, indicating that no particular strategy, or taxonomic affiliation, conferred particular ecological advantage. For most other species, occurrence and abundance varied markedly among different ERs, some having pronounced “centres of abundance”. Conversely, another 40 species, also with widely divergent life histories, were very rare, occurring in five or fewer sites, 14 species of which are ranked as “Vulnerable” or “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Others may also qualify in these Threatened categories under criteria of small geographic range and population fragmentation, the utility of which is briefly assessed.
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