Demethylation and cleavage of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) was measured in three different types of,intertidal marine sediments: a cyanobacterial mat, a diatom-covered tidal flat and a carbonate sediment. Consumption rates of added DMSP were highest in cyanobacterial mat slurries (59 ?? mol DMSP l-1 slurry h-1) and lower in slurries from a diatom mat and a carbonate tidal sediment (24 and 9 ??mol DMSP l-1 h-1, respectively). Dimethyl sulfide (DMS) and 3-mercaptopropionate (MPA) were produced simultaneously during DMSP consumption, indicating that cleavage and demethylation occurred at the same time. Viable counts of DMSP-utilizing bacteria revealed a population of 2 x 107 cells cm-3 sediment (90% of these cleaved DMSP to DMS, 10% demethylated DMSP to MPA) in the cyanobacterial mat, 7 x 105 cells cm-3 in the diatom mat (23% cleavers, 77% demethylators), and 9 x 104 cells cm-3 (20% cleavers and 80% demethylators) in the carbonate sediment. In slurries of the diatom mat, the rate of MPA production from added 3-methiolpropionate (MMPA) was 50% of the rate of MPA formation from DMSP. The presence of a large population of demethylating bacteria and the production of MPA from DMSP suggest that the demethylation pathway, in addition to cleavage, contributes significantly to DMSP consumption in coastal sediments.