Major and trace elements were measured in sponges, seawater and sediment in Darwin Harbour (Australia) to test the hypothesis that metals are elevated in sponges closer to a sewage outfall compared with unimpacted sites. Seawater and sed- iment at the sewage discharge site contained high, but localised, concentrations of phosphorus (P), manga- nese (Mn), iron (Fe), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), arsenic (As) and lead (Pb) compared with background sites. Metal concentrations in the sponge Spheciospongia vagabunda were highly ele- vated compared with other sponges and, although site specific, high metal concentrations were unrelated to the presence of sewage effluent. X-ray fluorescence microprobe imaging was used to investigate the metal distribution pattern in S. vagabunda. High Fe, Ni and Zn concentrations were either localised in circular patches (100–200 lm size) near water canals or in the pinacoderm, or scattered in spots (approximately 10 lm) throughout the tissue. This supports a micro- flora-mediated metal bioaccumulation hypothesis. In contrast, Co and Mn were highly dispersed and probably associated with aluminium- and iron-oxide rich sediment inclusions. Although the lack of asso- ciation between sewage effluent and metal accumu- lation precludes the use of S. vagabunda as a biomonitor, the apparent differential mechanisms of metal accumulation warrants further investigation.