|Implementation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) has always a step-zero, i.e., an initial phase when the idea is incepted, communicated and negotiated among stakeholders. What happens during this phase is likely to have an impact later on. If not done right, the management of the MPA may encounter problems at later stage that will be difficult to correct. Inspired by this working theory, this article describes the effort to establish the Pearl Cays off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua as a protected area. This case-study illustrates the critical actions to be taken during step-zero, i.e., what needs to be considered and done before an MPA is formally declared. The area investigated consists of a number of small islands (cays) and coral reefs, fishing grounds and marine turtle nesting areas. Throughout history, the cays have played an important role in sustaining livelihoods of nearby communities. Although the idea of an MPA was originally conservation, the communities saw it as an opportunity to regain ownership and control of the cays. By Nicaraguan law, in order to establish protected areas, consultation and approval from local people is required. In the case of the Pearl Cays, this has proved difficult. The article demonstrates how MPA initiatives must sometimes relate to already ongoing complex social processes in the area where they are to be instigated.