The sea anemone Nematostella vectensis occurs in lagoons in the United States and along the southern and eastern coasts of the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom it is considered rare and is threatened, principally through the destruction of lagoonal habitat. Random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) data from populations across most of the rane of N. vectensis in the United Kingdom revealed that 61% of individuals had an identical genotype, the frequency of which varied from 0.01 to 1.00. These data provide strong evidence for predominantly clonal reproduction and for the existence of a 'general-purpose genotype' in the UK populations. Alternatively, the low levels of genetic variation observed in some N. vectensis populations may have resulted if they were founded from very few successful individuals from the United States. Analysis of molecular variance (amova) showed significant genetic differentiation between lagoons with no large-scale pattern of geographical variation. This result is consistent with occasional passive or anthropogenic dispersal of low numbers of individuals between lagoons followed by asexual proliferation of immigrants. Transplantation of individuals of the predominant (general-purpose) genotype, for conservation purposes, will probably stand a good chance of survival given its prevalence throughout the United Kingdom.