Flatfishes occur nearly globally in marine habitats and occupy diverse bathymetric environments, ranging from shal low-water to deep-water habitats to about 6,560 ft (2,000 m). Relatively few species inhabit freshwater environments. The greatest diversity of flatfishes, about 74% of the known species, is found in habitats ranging from near shore to depths of about 328 ft (100 m) on the continental shelf.

The majority of flatfishes occur in shallow marine waters, in coastal areas and estuaries, and on the inner continental shelf, where there are soft-sediment bottom types. Flatfishes also occur on a variety of sediments on the outer continental shelf and upper continental slope. Flatfishes can be found on intertidal flats following the tide line to deeper habitats. In tropical waters, flatfishes inhabit shallow mangrove estuaries and adjacent mud flats, sea grass beds, and mud bottoms along the coast. Within reef-associated habitats, which are distributed widely across tropical oceans, flatfishes are found on reef flats, on back-reef slope areas and in lagoons associated with reefs, and around coral outcrops, as well as on sandy substrates interspersed around reef spurs. Flatfishes inhabit various sediments, including silt, mud, sand, and sand-shell mixtures, with some species also occurring on rocky or pebbly bottoms.

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