While high biodiversity has been widely reported from the tropics, we suggest that in reality there is a considerable underestimate of the total biodiversity. We have concentrated on the tropical regions of Australia and the Coral Triangle. The best known groups are the corals, fish, and commercially important invertebrates. In considering whether this is true, we have concentrated on the diversity of benthic communities and water column communities which are poorly known. Yet at the bottom of the food chain these communities are highly dynamic and susceptible to the anthropogenic changes that are occurring with the rapid development in this highly populated region. Tropical biodiversity is under increasing stress from a synergistic combination of changes in climate, oceanographic regimes, increasing coastal development, overfishing, and poor water quality, resulting in bleaching of corals and loss of habitat and of associated fauna. These changes on reefs have received substantial research attention; in comparison, there is limited data on inter-reefal areas and water column communities and limited understanding of the ecological interconnectivity of all these habitats. While in this region there is growing marine protected area coverage, the major focus is on coral reefs with other habitats based on surrogacy with little if any ground-truthing. Within this region, there is limited capacity or inclination to rectify this lack of knowledge of the structure and ecology of the broader non-commercial benthic and pelagic communities. We suggest this lack of knowledge and limited expertise may be widespread throughout the tropics and compromises our ability to understand and predict the changes that are occurring with increasing anthropogenic impacts on these tropical ecosystems.