The polychaete worms Marenzelleria viridis (Verrill 1873) and Hediste diversicolor (O.F. Müller) form the main part of the macro-zoobenthos in soft-bottomed shallow inlets of the Baltic Sea. Due to high eutrophication within these waters the animals are exposed to low oxygen and high sulphide concentrations. Specimens of both species from a low salinity location (S 8/1000) were compared concerning their physiological abilities in coping with this hostile environment. Sulphide detoxification occurred in both polychaetes even during severe hypoxia with the main end-product being thiosulphate. In absence of sulphide nearly no end-products of anaerobic metabolism were found in the worms during moderate hypoxia (pO2 = 7 kPa). In presence of hydrogen sulphide, succinate, a sensitive indicator of anaerobic metabolism, was accumulated in higher amounts at low sulphide concentrations (0.3 mM) already. Oxygen consumption and ATP production was determined in isolated mitochondria of both species. Both polychaetes were able to perform enzymatic sulphide oxidation in the mitochondria at concentrations up to 50 microM. This process was coupled with oxidative phosphorylation. At least in M. viridis sulphide respiration was not completely inhibited by cyanide, suggesting an alternative oxidation pathway, which by-passes the cytochrome-c-oxidase. The two species did not differ in the rate of sulphide detoxification, but H. diversicolor produced about as twice as much ATP from mitochondrial sulphide oxidation. Differences in mitochondrial sulphide oxidation are probably related to the different life strategies of the worms.