Observations show ocean temperatures are rising due to climate change, resulting in a fivefold increase in the incidence of regional-scale coral bleaching events since the 1980s; analyses based on global climate models forecast bleaching will become an annual event for most of the world’s coral reefs within 30–50 yr. Internal waves at tidal frequencies can regularly flush reefs with cooler waters, buffering the thermal stress from rising sea-surface temperatures. Here we present the first global maps of the effects these processes have on bleaching projections for three IPCC-AR5 emissions scenarios. Incorporating semidiurnal temperature fluctuations into the projected water temperatures at depth creates a delay in the timing of annual severe bleaching ≥ 10 yr (≥ 20 yr) for 38% (9%), 15% (1%), and 1% (0%) of coral reef sites for the low, moderate, and high emission scenarios, respectively; regional averages can reach twice as high. These cooling effects are greatest later in twenty-first century for the moderate emission scenarios, and around the middle twenty-first century for the highest emission scenario. Our results demonstrate how these effects could delay bleaching for corals, providing thermal refugia. Identification of such areas could be a factor for the selection of coral reef marine protected areas.