The total area of reef around Barbados is approximately18 km 2 made up of fringing and bank reefs on the north and west coast of the Island , and patch and bank reefs of the south and bank reefs on the east coast.

Living corals have an essential association with microscopic algae (called zooxanthellae). These algae actually live inside the coral's tissues in a symbiotic partnership, which means the corals and the algae benefit from each other. Corals provide the algae with a safe home and with a ready supply of carbon dioxide and nitrogen products which the algal plants need to survive, while the algae provide their coral hosts with sugars and other nutrients which keep them well fed and healthy. By removing the corals' waste products (carbon dioxide and nitrogen products) the algae also make sure that the corals stay healthy and able to build their calcium carbonate skeletons. It is actually these same algae which add colour to corals and help to create the fabulous array of colours we associate with coral reefs.
For reasons which are still unclear, this partnership with the zooxanthellae breaks down when corals are stressed. The corals lose the algae from their tissues, becoming much paler than normal and eventually, if all algae are lost, the corals become a vivid white colour, as if they had been bleached. This is where the term bleaching' comes from. Bleached corals are not dead, and will frequently recover from such an event. However, if the source of stress stays for many weeks, so that corals remain bleached, they will stop growing and will actually starve to death.