Guatemala's rich coastal and marine biodiversity provides essential ecosystem goods and services to local residents and the national economy through artisanal and commercial fisheries, aquaculture, port exports and, to a lesser extent, tourism. As in many other countries, national policies emphasise the significance of marine conservation and marine resources, primarily through implementing marine protected areas (MPAs). However, this assumes that governance, as reflected in legal, institutional and organizational frameworks, political capacity and human resources is sufficiently developed to ensure MPAs meet these goals. These issues are explored through presenting the first detailed analysis of coastal and marine governance in Guatemala. The research highlights a range of barriers to good governance which restrict the extent to which MPAs can function effectively. Recommendations are made which can capitalise upon the potential for locally managed marine areas as a means to facilitate the improved governance of coastal and marine resources in Guatemala.