Marine environments harbour a persistent microbial seed which can be shaped by changes of the environmental conditions such as contamination by petroleum components. Oil spills, together with small but continuous discharges of oil from transportation and recreational activities, are important sources of hydrocarbon pollution within the marine realm. Consequently, prokaryotic communities have become well pre-adapted toward oil pollution, and many microorganisms that are exposed to its presence develop an active degradative response. The natural attenuation of oil pollutants, as has been demonstrated in many sites, is modulated according to the intrinsic environmental properties such as the availability of terminal electron acceptors and elemental nutrients, together with the degree of pollution and the type of hydrocarbon fractions present. Whilst dynamics in the bacterial communities in the aerobic zones of coastal sediments are well characterized and the key players in hydrocarbon biodegradation have been identified, the subtidal ecology of the anaerobic community is still not well understood. However, current data suggest common patterns of response in these ecosystems.