International institutions, understood as sets of rules contained in international agreements, are aimed at orienting national governments towards specific policy options. Nevertheless, they can determine a change in national policies and practices only if states are willing and capable of incorporating international obligations into their national legislations and ensuring their application and enforcement in areas that follow completely under national jurisdiction. The establishment of marine protected areas promoted by international agreements as a tool for the protection of marine resources represents an interesting case for revealing the complex interactions between international institutions and national actors. Particularly, the establishment of these areas in Senegal shows the salience of domestic constellations of actors who may support or undercut national commitments to international regimes: political elites, bureaucracies, the general public and target groups. By anchoring the empirical analysis to an actor-centred institutionalist perspective, the article explains how dynamic constellations of actors can distort the penetration of international objectives in the national policy framework. Different constellations of national actors can indeed bend international institutions at different moments: during the formulation of a new law in line with international obligations; in the definition of its implementation framework; and in the enforcement of national policies.