Changing Planet

Colorful Close-Ups From a Remote Coral Reef

Kike Ballesteros has been the Pristine Seas team expert on coral and algae since the beginning.

Now, diving on the current expedition to Niue Island, a raised coral atoll in the South Pacific, Kike reveals some of his most colorful and finely detailed images yet of the strange and beautiful creatures that call the bottom of the ocean home.

And lest you think that algae and coral are just a pretty backdrop for all the glorious fish, see what Kike had to say on an earlier expedition, explaining how these tiny life forms are responsible for feeding the ocean and building the beach.

[Updated 10/3/16. Earlier text mistakenly called Niue “the world’s largest coral atoll.” Lifou Island in New Caledonia is the largest.]

Expedition Leader Paul Rose’s First Post From Niue

Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.
  • Jose

    National Geographic and those that write articles for it have got to lose this habit of needing to use superlatives to describe the locations that are being covered in their posts.

    1) Niue is certainly not the largest raised coral atoll in the world. Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands is over 3 times the size of Niue. Lifou in the Loyalty group of New Caledonia is much larger yet. With better research, you would not have made that mistake.

    2) But who cares if it’s a mistake (sarcasm), it sounds so great when you can claim that the location you are covering is the biggest this or the longest that. And this brings me to my second point. Why does it matter if Niue is not the largest raised coral atoll in the world? Does make the island any less special? The answer to both is a resounding no.

    Bottom line, better research ensures that these sorts of mistakes are avoided. Letting go of the need to boast and shower locations with superlatives will help avoid jumping to conclusions we wished were true but that are not.

    • Andrew Howley

      Thanks, Jose. We’ve updated the content above.

  • Jose

    You really had to keep the term “largest” in there I see. I just don’t understand why it is so important. Are National Geographic putting pressure to use the term?
    Lifou in New Caledonia is twice the size of Rennell that is 3 times the size of Niue. Even the revised statement is misleading.

    • Andrew Howley

      We certainly don’t want to be misleading, and it is not important for Niue to be anything other than the naturally rich place that it is, and which is the point of the photos. Updated and annotated again.

  • Mark Cross

    Yes, a perennial mistake born of ignorant tourism hype along with a lot of other hackneyed myths about Niue created by inept travel writers cutting and pasting previous mistakes. EG Niue is a volcanic Island (although its foundation is), Niue is 100 metres high ( a hundred feet maybe) the coastal cliffs are 50 metres high (15 – 18 metres) the list goes on. Hopefully National Geographic can bury these inaccuracies once and for all. Most will say so what!? Well they grate on the craw of thinking residents.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media