When planning a marine reserve, the efficacy of different approaches should be assessed by their potential impact. This research (Smallhorn-West et al. 2018) predicted the impact, or recovery of target species biomass, for different marine reserve configurations in the Vava’u island group in the Kingdom of Tonga. Specifically, we asked whether the current community-based approach, where villages design their own no-take reserves, was comparable to a systematic approach designed to have the greatest impact. Our findings indicate that when given the choice, communities tend to configure marine reserves close to their villages for ease of enforcement, which is also where fishing pressure has been historically greatest. The predicted recovery of the community-based approach was therefore high, 84% of the best case systematic configuration. These results provide strong support for community-based marine management in regions where there is little scope for systematic reserve design.