This paper examines variations in social acceptability of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) prior to implementation. The influence of a number of factors, including socio-economic characteristics, perception of coral resources state of health and attitudes towards non-compliance with regulations are analysed. During May 2006, 640 questionnaires were distributed to school children around Reunion Island, Western Indian Ocean, for completion by their parents, following an informal educational activity made in school. From a 73% (n = 469) response rate, results showed that 78% of participants were in favour of the MPA. Analysis further identified that those supportive of the MPA were generally from higher socio-professional categories, had a negative perception of the coral reef ecosystem's health and were not originally from Reunion. In contrast, locals (born in Reunion) from lower socio-professional categories or with no employment activity and having a positive perception of the health status of coral reefs offered no opinion on the MPA. Attitudes towards enforcement and compliance highlighted that SCUBA divers, fishers and jet skiers attributed a higher value to the protection of the coral reef environment through enforcement of MPA regulations than to their own use of the coral reef resource. When asked about the use of penalties to deter non-compliance, swimmers were awarded the lowest fines, followed by SCUBA divers, fishers then jet skiers being awarded the highest fines. Thus, the more severe the act of non-compliance by a resource user group was perceived to be, the more these users themselves disapproved of non-compliant behaviour and supported use of high penalties. The survey design through focusing on school children's parents, demonstrated a simple and cost-effective method for data collection while providing environmental education, which could be employed in similar case studies elsewhere.