There is little information on how different strategies for the bioremediation of marine oil spills influence the key indigenous hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria (hydrocarbonoclastic bacteria, HCB), and hence their remediation efficacy. Therefore, we have used quantitative polymerase chain reaction to analyse changes in concentrations of HCB in response to intervention strategies applied to experimental microcosms. Biostimulation with nutrients (N and P) produced no measurable increase in either biodegradation or concentration of HCB within the first 5 days, but after 15 days there was a significant increase (29%; P < 0.05) in degradation of n-alkanes, and an increase of one order of magnitude in concentration of Thalassolituus (to 107 cells ml−1). Rhamnolipid bioemulsifier additions alone had little effect on biodegradation, but, in combination with nutrient additions, provoked a significant increase: 59% (P < 0.05) more n-alkane degradation by 5 days than was achieved with nutrient additions alone. The very low Alcanivorax cell concentrations in the microcosms were hardly influenced by addition of nutrients or bioemulsifier, but strongly increased after their combined addition, reflecting the synergistic action of the two types of biostimulatory agents. Bioaugmentation with Thalassolituus positively influenced hydrocarbon degradation only during the initial 5 days and only of the n-alkane fraction. Bioaugmentation with Alcanivorax was clearly much more effective, resulting in 73% greater degradation of n-alkanes, 59% of branched alkanes, and 28% of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, in the first 5 days than that obtained through nutrient addition alone (P < 0.01). Enhanced degradation due to augmentation with Alcanivorax continued throughout the 30-day period of the experiment. In addition to providing insight into the factors limiting oil biodegradation over time, and the competition and synergism between HCB, these results add weight to the use of bioaugmentation in oil pollution mitigation strategies.