The use of marine protected area (MPA) networks to sustain fisheries and conserve biodiversity is predicated on two critical yet rarely tested assumptions. Individual MPAs must produce sufficient larvae that settle within that reserve's boundaries to maintain local populations while simultaneously supplying larvae to other MPA nodes in the network that might otherwise suffer local extinction. Here, we use genetic parentage analysis to demonstrate that patterns of self-recruitment of two reef fishes (Amphiprion percula and Chaetodon vagabundus) in an MPA in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea, were remarkably consistent over several years. However, dispersal from this reserve to two other nodes in an MPA network varied between species and through time. The stability of our estimates of self-recruitment suggests that even small MPAs may be self-sustaining. However, our results caution against applying optimization strategies to MPA network design without accounting for variable connectivity among species and over time.