Scientists generally divide coral reefs into four classes: fringing reefs, barrier reefs, atolls, and patch reefs. Fringing reefs grow near the coastline around islands and continents. They are separated from the shore by narrow, shallow lagoons. Fringing reefs are the most common type of reef that we see. Atoll Reefs. When a fringing reef continues to grow upward from a sunken volcanic island, it creates an atoll reef. The atoll reef is circular in shape with a lagoon in the center. Examples of atoll reefs in Hawaii are the French Frigate Shoals and Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Most of the reefs in the main Hawaiian islands (Hawai’i to Kaua’i) are fringing reefs. However, as time progresses and an island moves off the volcanic hot-spot, they begin to sink and erode and reefs grow outward, away from shore, to form a barrier reef.
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