Escherichia coli, a fecal coliform, was found to survive for longer periods of time in unsterile natural seawater when sediment material was present than in seawater alone, and at least on one occasion growth was observed to occur. This enteric bacterium was found to increase rapidly in number in autoclaved natural seawater and autoclaved sediment taken from areas receiving domestic wastes, even when the seawater had salinities as high as 34 g/kg. However, in autoclaved seawater, growth was always more gradual and never reached numbers as high as those observed when sediment was present. It was found that nutrients were easily eluted from the sediment after autoclaving or upon addition to artificial seawater, but little elution occured during mixing of the sediments with unsterile natural seawater. The longer survival of E. coli in the sediment is attributed to the greater content of organic matter present in the sediment than the sweater. These laboratory results, in part, could explain why on a volume basis larger numbers of coliforms and fecal coliforms and fecal coliforms were found in estuarine sediments than the overlaying water at field sites.