Since 2011 Comunidad y Biodiversidad has been working closely with fishing cooperatives in the central portion of Quintana Roo, Mexico to establish fully protected marine reserves to restore commercial fisheries and preserve coral reefs and associated habitats. The process to design, implement and monitor these reserves was developed in collaboration with the fishers and a multitude of other stakeholders, working under the Kanan Kay Alliance. The Alliances main goal is to create a network of marine reserves along the coast of the state, which are co-managed by fishers and authorities, and eventually become essential tools in supporting ecosystem resilience and services. Although the project is very ambitious, both in terms of geographic coverage and timing (20% of territorial waters by 2015) and its collaborative approach (the Kanan Kay Alliance is made of 40 institutions), it has been discovered that the marine reserves are not only key to restoring the natural capital of the reefs, but also generate social capital particularly regarding the fishing cooperatives' organization, administration, leadership, marketing, law enforcement and governance skills. A package of incentives has also been generated to compensate some of the opportunity costs of the marine reserves. We conclude that this model of work can have dual results and that conservation projects can benefit greatly by considering both approaches even with controversial tools like fully protected zones.