Abstract Symbiotic algae (Symbiodinium sp.) in scleractinian corals are important in understanding how coral reefs will respond to global climate change. The present paper reports on the diversity of Symbiodinium sp. in 48 scleractinian coral species from 25 genera and 10 families sampled from the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea, which were identified with the use of restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) of the nuclear ribosomal DNA large subunit gene (rDNA). The results showed that: (i) Symbiodinium Clade C was the dominant zooxanthellae in scleractinian corals in the Xisha Islands; (ii) Symbiodinium Clade D was found in the corals Montipora aequituberculata, Galaxea fascicularis, and Plerogyra sinuosa; and (iii) both Symbiodinium Clades C and D were found simultaneously in Montipora digitata, Psammocora contigua, and Galaxea fascicularis. A poor capacity for symbiosis polymorphism, as uncovered by RFLP, in the Xisha Islands indicates that the scleractinian corals have low adaptability to environmental changes. Further studies are needed to investigate zooxanthellae diversity using other molecular markers.