A settlement inhibition assay using barnacle cyprid larvae, Balanus amphitrite, was developed with Cd2+ and phenol as standard reference toxicants. Mean percentage settlement of cyprid larvae showed a progressive reduction with increasing concentrations of Cd2+ and phenol. A significant reduction in settlement was found when cyprids were exposed to 0.1 mgL-1 Cd2+ or 10 mgL-1 phenol. The assay was used to assess the sublethal toxicity of three oil dispersants (Vecom B-1425 GL, Norchem OSD-570 and Corexit 9905) commonly used in Hong Kong waters. Results of this investigation show that the barnacle settlement inhibition assay can be incorporated into the battery of tests currently available for ecotoxicological assessment of marine contaminants. Copyright © 1997 Published by Elsevier Ltd.