Ecological communities are influenced by processes operating at multiple scales1-5. Thus, a better understanding of how broad- as well as local-scale processes affect species diversity and richness is increasingly becoming a central focus in modern community ecology6-9. Here, in a study of unprecedented geographical scope, we show significant regional and local variation in the species richness of coral assemblages across an oceanic biodiversity gradient. The gradient that we sampled extends 10,000 km eastwards from the world's richest coral biodiversity hotspot in the central Indo-Pacific10. Local richness and the size of regional species pools decline significantly across 15 islands spanning the gradient. In addition, richness declines across three adjacent habitats (reef slopes, crests and flats). In each habitat, a highly consistent linear relationship between local and regional species richness indicates strong regional enrichment. Thus, even on the most diverse coral reefs in the world, local coral assemblages are profoundly affected by regional-scale processes. Understanding these historical and biogeographical influences is essential for the effective management and preservation of these endangered communities.