Demands for public outdoor recreation and urbanization are a potential source of environmental disturbances, particularly on sandy beaches. These habitats have therefore experienced rapid degradation worldwide. Talitrid amphipods, which are common inhabitants of sandy beaches, are probably good indicators of such disturbances. In this study, we evaluated the responses of the two amphipods Talitrus saltator and Atlantorchestoidea brasiliensis to human pressure on Spanish and a Brazilian beach, hypothesizing that disregarding species differences, their population sizes will decline under urbanized conditions. The Barra da Tijuca (Brazil) and Levante (Spain) beaches have mixed landscapes with varying levels of development, and each has a protected area (MPA) adjacent to urbanized sites. Numbers of talitrids as well as visitors were compared among sites on each beach. Talitrids were most abundant at the protected sites. This was true of both beaches, even though temporal patterns of human activity were quite different, with Levante experiencing sharp declines in the number of visitors during its harsh winter. Urbanized sites did not experience high Talitrid densities even during a period of low human pressure. On this basis, T. saltator and A. brasiliensis were considered good indicators of urbanization and recreational activities on sandy beaches. MPAs were found to be very important for the successful conservation of the talitrid populations. A feasible method of managing human pressure and thereby conserving beach biodiversity therefore seems to be the establishment of beach MPAs.