The principal anthropogenic factors driving reef degradation have been known for years, if not decades. Overfishing, sedimentation and nutrient loads are just some of the key impacts of human activities in and around reef communities. Therefore, the future of reefs does not rely on generating new knowledge, but rather on implementing and integrating the knowledge we already have. This will require creating effective links between researchers, managers and communities to promote mutual learning, negotiation and collaborative action for reef management. Combining agent-based models and role-play games, through a technique known as Companion Modelling (ComMod), creates a dynamic and interactive setting that can contribute to research, education and participatory goals across diverse stakeholders. Incorporating the decision-making processes of individuals into each time step, through the role-play game, means that socio-economic rationalities are seamlessly integrated with the bio-physical dynamics embedded in the models. ComMod has been used successfully as a communication and learning tool in participatory workshops in both the Mesoamerican Reef (Mexico) and the Bolinao-Anda reef complex (Philippines). These experiences demonstrate that simple, generic ecological dynamics are very effective in communicating key conservation messages to a lay audience. However, a comprehensive understanding of local cultural, economic and social characteristics is crucial to develop a coupled model/role-play game that can successfully engage stakeholders.