The bacterial community associated with black band disease (BBD) of the scleractinian corals Diploria strigosa, Montastrea annularis and Colpophyllia natans was examined using culture-independent techniques. Two complementary molecular screening techniques of 16S rDNA genes [amplified 16S ribosomal DNA restriction analysis (ARDRA) of clone libraries and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE)] were used to give a comprehensive characterization of the community. Findings support previous studies indicating low bacterial abundance and diversity associated with healthy corals. A single cyanobacterial ribotype was present in all the diseased samples, but this was not the same as that identified from Phormidium corallyticum culture isolated from BBD. The study confirms the presence of Desulfovibrio spp. and sulphate-reducing bacteria that have previously been associated with the BBD consortium. However, the species varied between diseased coral samples. We found no evidence of bacteria from terrestrial, freshwater or human sources in any of the samples. We report the presence of previously unrecognized potential pathogens [a Cytophaga sp. and an α-proteobacterium identified as the aetiological agent of juvenile oyster disease (JOD)] that were consistently present in all the diseased coral samples. The molecular biological approach described here gives an increasingly comprehensive and more precise picture of the bacterial population associated with BBD. To understand the pathogenesis of BBD, our attention should be focused on the pervasive ribotypes identified in this study (the Cyanobacterium sp., the Cytophaga sp. and the JOD pathogen).