The Red Sea has long been recognized as a region of high biodiversity and endemism. Despite this diversity and early history of scientific work, our understanding of the ecology of coral reefs in the Red Sea has lagged behind that of other large coral reef systems. We carried out a quantitative assessment of ISI-listed research published from the Red Sea in eight specific topics (apex predators, connectivity, coral bleaching, coral reproductive biology, herbivory, marine protected areas, non-coral invertebrates and reef-associated bacteria) and compared the amount of research conducted in the Red Sea to that from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and the Caribbean. On average, for these eight topics, the Red Sea had 1/6th the amount of research compared to the GBR and about 1/8th the amount of the Caribbean. Further, more than 50 % of the published research from the Red Sea originated from the Gulf of Aqaba, a small area (<2 % of the area of the Red Sea) in the far northern Red Sea. We summarize the general state of knowledge in these eight topics and highlight the areas of future research priorities for the Red Sea region. Notably, data that could inform science-based management approaches are badly lacking in most Red Sea countries. The Red Sea, as a geologically “young” sea located in one of the warmest regions of the world, has the potential to provide insight into pressing topics such as speciation processes as well as the capacity of reef systems and organisms to adapt to global climate change. As one of the world’s most biodiverse coral reef regions, the Red Sea may yet have a significant role to play in our understanding of coral reef ecology at a global scale.