The distribution of toxic cyanobacterium Microcystis cf. aeruginosa in the severely polluted Golden Horn Estuary was studied from 1998 to 2000. Microcystis persisted at the upper estuary where the water circulation was poor and values ranged between 2.9 x 10(4) and 2.7 x 10(6) cells ml(-1) throughout the study. Simultaneously measured physical (salinity, temperature, rainfall and secchi disc) and chemical parameters (nutrients and dissolved oxygen) were evaluated together with Microcystis data. Although the Microcystis blooms generally occur in summer due to the increase in temperature, the blooms were recorded in winter in the present study. The abundance of Microcystis depended on the variations in salinity and both blooms were recorded below S = 2. A moderate partial correlation between Microcystis abundance and salinity was detected in the presence of temperature, dissolved oxygen and precipitation data (r = -0.561, p = 0.002). The M. cf. aeruginosa abundance was low in the summer when the salinity was higher than winter. A remarkable increase in the eukaryotic phytoplankton abundance following the improvements in the water quality of the estuary occurred, whilst the Microcystis abundance remained below bloom level. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.