Concepts and theory for the design and application of terrestrial reserves is based on our understanding of environmental, ecological, and evolutionary processes responsible for biological diversity and sustainability of terrestrial ecosystems and how humans have influenced these processes. How well this terrestrial-based theory can be applied toward the design and application of reserves in the coastal marine environment depends, in part, on the degree of similarity between these systems. Several marked differences in ecological and evolutionary processes exist between marine and terrestrial ecosystems as ramifications of fundamental differences in their physical environments (i.e., the relative prevalence of air and water) and contemporary patterns of human impacts. Most notably, the great extent and rate of dispersal of nutrients, materials, holoplanktonic organisms, and reproductive propagules of benthic organisms expand scales of connectivity among near-shore communities and ecosystems. Consequently, the "openness" of marine populations, communities, and ecosystems probably has marked influences on their spatial, genetic, and trophic structures and dynamics in ways experienced by only some terrestrial species. Such differences appear to be particularly significant for the kinds of organisms most exploited and targeted for protection in coastal marine ecosystems (fishes and macroinvertebrates). These and other differences imply some unique design criteria and application of reserves in the marine environment. In explaining the implications of these differences for marine reserve design and application, we identify many of the environmental and ecological processes and design criteria necessary for consideration in the development of the analytical approaches developed elsewhere in this Special Issue.