We investigated the presence and fate of 16 antibiotics belonging to seven groups (beta-lactams, fluoroquinolones, macrolides, sulfonamides, tetracyclines, trimethoprim and amphenicols) in effluents of sewage plants and receiving waters in Hong Kong. Cefalexin, amoxicillin, ofloxacin and erythromycin-H(2)O were ubiquitous in sea water throughout Victoria Harbour, indicating continuous discharge to the environment. This is one of the few studies reporting the frequent occurrence of cefalexin and amoxicillin in sewage effluents and sea water (170-5070 and 64-1670 ng/L in sewage; 6.1-493 and 0.64-76 ng/L in sea water, respectively). Mass flows from seven sewage plants discharged an estimated total of 14.4 kg/day to the Harbour. Typhoon shelters also appeared to play an important role as sources of antibiotics, as evidenced by elevated concentrations within their boundaries. Mass balance estimations suggested significant quantities of antibiotics are discharged to the Harbour without passage through treatment plants.