- Coral reefs of the world face rapid degradation of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and marine protected areas (MPAs) are a commonly applied solution. Nevertheless, coral reefs continue to decline worldwide, raising questions about the adequacy of management and protection efforts. We argue that expanding the range of MPA targets to also include degraded reefs (i.e. 'DR-MPA'), could help reverse this trend. This approach requires new ecological criteria for MPA design, siting, and management. Rather than focusing solely on preserving healthy reefs, the proposed approach focuses on the potential for biodiversity recovery and renewal of ecosystem services. The new criteria highlight sites with the highest potential for recovery, the greatest resistance to future threats (e.g., temperature and acidification) and the largest contribution to connectivity of MPA networks. The DR-MPA approach is not a substitute for traditional MPA selection criteria; it is rather a complimentary framework when traditional approaches are inadequate. We believe that the DR-MPA approach can help to: 1. Enhance the natural, or restoration-assisted, recovery of degraded reefs and their ecosystem services, 2. Increase the total reef area available for protection, 3. Promote more resilient and better-connected MPA networks, and 4. More effectively contribute to improved conditions for human communities dependent on these ecosystem services. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.