The Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research project funded by the US National Science Foundation includes multidisciplinary studies of physical processes driving ecological dynamics across the fringing reef, back reef, and fore reef habitats of Moorea, French Polynesia. A network of oceanographic moorings and a variety of other approaches have been used to investigate the biological and biogeochemical aspects of water transport and retention processes in this system. There is evidence to support the hypothesis that a low-frequency counterclockwise flow around the island is superimposed on the relatively strong alongshore currents on each side of the island. Despite the rapid flow and flushing of the back reef, waters over the reef display chemical and biological characteristics distinct from those offshore. The patterns include higher nutrient and lower dissolved organic carbon concentrations, distinct microbial community compositions among habitats, and reef assemblages of zooplankton that exhibit migration behavior, suggesting multigenerational residence on the reef. Zooplankton consumption by planktivorous fish on the reef reflects both retention of reef-associated taxa and capture by the reef community of resources originating offshore. Coral recruitment and population genetics of reef fishes point to retention of larvae within the system and high recruitment levels from local adult populations. The combined results suggest that a broad suite of physical and biological processes contribute to high retention of externally derived and locally produced organic materials within this island coral reef system.