Marine protected areas (MPAs) have been highlighted as a means toward effective conservation of coral reefs. New strategies are required to more effectively select MPA locations and increase the pace of their implementation. Many criteria exist to design MPA networks, but generally, it is recommended that networks conserve a diversity of species selected for, among other attributes, their representativeness, rarity, or endemicity. Because knowledge of species' spatial distribution remains scarce, efficient surrogates are urgently needed. We used five different levels of habitat maps and six spatial scales of analysis to identify under which circumstances habitat data used to design MPA networks for Wallis Island provided better representation of species than random choice alone. Protected-area site selections were derived from a rarity-complementarity algorithm. Habitat surrogacy was tested for commercial fish species, all fish species, commercially harvested invertebrates, corals, and algae species. Efficiency of habitat surrogacy varied by species group, type of habitat map, and spatial scale of analysis. Maps with the highest habitat thematic complexity provided better surrogates than simpler maps and were more robust to changes in spatial scales. Surrogates were most efficient for commercial fishes, corals, and algae but not for commercial invertebrates. Conversely, other measurements of species-habitat associations, such as richness congruence and composition similarities provided weak results. We provide, in part, a habitat-mapping methodology for designation of MPAs for Pacific Ocean islands that are characterized by habitat zonations similar to Wallis. Given the increasing availability and affordability of space-borne imagery to map habitats, our approach could appreciably facilitate and improve current approaches to coral reef conservation and enhance MPA implementation. ©2010 Society for Conservation Biology.