Tropical coral reefs are highly diverse and globally threatened. Management to ensure their persistence requires sound biological knowledge in regions where coral reef biodiversity and/or the threats to it are greatest. This paper uses a novel text analysis approach and Google Maps™ to examine the spatial coverage of scientific papers on coral reefs listed in Web of Science®. Results show that research is highly clumped spatially, positively related to per capita gross domestic product, negatively related to coral species richness, and unrelated to threats to coral reefs globally; indicating a serious mismatch between conservation needs and the knowledge required for effective management. Greater research effort alone cannot guarantee better conservation outcomes, but given some regions of the world (e.g., Central Indo-Pacific) remain severely understudied, priority allocation of resources to fill such knowledge gaps should support greater adaptive management capacity through the development of an improved knowledge base for reef managers.