Conservation and environmental management are principal countermeasures to the degradation of marine ecosystems and their services. However, in many cases, current practices are insufficient to reverse ecosystem declines. We suggest that restoration ecology, the science underlying the concepts and tools needed to restore ecosystems, must be recognized as an integral element for marine conservation and environmental management. Marine restoration ecology is a young scientific discipline, often with gaps between its application and the supporting science. Bridging these gaps is essential to using restoration as an effective management tool and reversing the decline of marine ecosystems and their services. Ecological restoration should address objectives that include improved ecosystem services, and it therefore should encompass social–ecological elements rather than focusing solely on ecological parameters. We recommend using existing management frameworks to identify clear restoration targets, to apply quantitative tools for assessment, and to make the re-establishment of ecosystem services a criterion for success.