Over the past four decades, the state of Hawaii has developed a system of eleven Marine Life Conservation Districts (MLCDs) to conserve and replenish marine resources around the state. Initially established to provide opportunities for public interaction with the marine environment, these MLCDs vary in size, habitat quality, and management regimes, providing an excellent opportunity to test hypotheses concerning marine protected area (MPA) design and function using multiple discreet sampling units. NOAA/NOS/NCCOS/Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment’s Biogeography Team developed digital benthic habitat maps for all MLCD and adjacent habitats. These maps were used to evaluate the efficacy of existing MLCDs for biodiversity conservation and fisheries replenishment, using a spatially explicit stratified random sampling design. Coupling the distribution of habitats and species habitat affinities using GIS technology elucidates species habitat utilization patterns at scales that are commensurate with ecosystem processes and is useful in defining essential fish habitat and biologically relevant boundaries for MPAs. Analysis of benthic cover validated the a priori classification of habitat types and provided justification for using these habitat strata to conduct stratified random sampling and analyses of fish habitat utilization patterns. Results showed that the abundance and distribution of species and assemblages exhibited strong correlations with habitat types. Fish assemblages in the colonized and uncolonized hardbottom habitats were found to be most similar among all of the habitat types. Much of the macroalgae habitat sampled was macroalgae growing on hard substrate, and as a result showed similarities with the other hardbottom assemblages. The fish assemblages in the sand habitats were highly variable but distinct from the other habitat types. Management regime also played an important role in the abundance and distribution of fish assemblages. MLCDs had higher values for most fish assemblage characteristics (e.g. biomass, size, diversity) compared with adjacent fished areas and Fisheries Management Areas (FMAs) across all habitat types. In addition, apex predators and other targeted resources species were more abundant and larger in the MLCDs, illustrating the effectiveness of these closures in conserving fish populations. Habitat complexity, quality, size and level of protection from fishing were important determinates of MLCD effectiveness with respect to their associated fish assemblages.