The global decline in coral reefs demands urgent management strategies to protect resilience. Protecting ecological connectivity, within and among reefs, and between reefs and other ecosystems is critical to resilience. However, connectivity science is not yet able to clearly identify the specific measures for effective protection of connectivity. This article aims to provide a set of principles or practical guidelines that can be applied currently to protect connectivity. These ‘rules of thumb’ are based on current knowledge and expert opinion, and on the philosophy that, given the urgency, it is better to act with incomplete knowledge than to wait for detailed understanding that may come too late. The principles, many of which are not unique to connectivity, include: (1) allow margins of error in extent and nature of protection, as insurance against unforeseen or incompletely understood threats or critical processes; (2) spread risks among areas; (3) aim for networks of protected areas which are: (a) comprehensive and spread—protect all biotypes, habitats and processes, etc., to capture as many possible connections, known and unknown; (b) adequate—maximise extent of protection for each habitat type, and for the entire region; (c) representative—maximise likelihood of protecting the full range of processes and spatial requirements; (d) replicated—multiple examples of biotypes or processes enhances risk spreading; (4) protect entire biological units where possible (e.g. whole reefs), including buffers around core areas. Otherwise, choose bigger rather than smaller areas; (5) provide for connectivity at a wide range of dispersal distances (within and between patches), emphasising distances <20–30 km; and (6) use a portfolio of approaches, including but not limited to MPAs. Three case studies illustrating the application of these principles to coral reef management in the Bohol Sea (Philippines), the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) and Kimbe Bay (Papua New Guinea) are described.