For preliminary screening of human impact on Antarctic coasts, the compositions of microbial communities were analyzed in seawater at two sites located in the Terra Nova Bay of Antarctica (Ross Sea) by a combination of 16S rRNA gene sequencing and culture techniques. The bacterial community in the sample from the Rod Bay site, located at the proximity to the Italian Station, was characterized by a high abundance of 16S rRNA gene sequences belonging to the microflora typically found in soil and freshwater environments. In contrast, the seawater sample from the Adelie Cove station, a pristine reference site, contained 16S rRNA gene sequences typically found in marine areas affected by algal blooms and sea ice decay. The addition of crude oil to the Rod Bay seawater sample rapidly induced a shift in the composition of the bacterial community with appearance of novel taxonomic groups and a dramatic increase in the relative abundance of gamma-Proteobacteria sequences, whereas no significant changes were detected in the bacterial community of the Adelie Cove sample under the same conditions. Bacteria-exhibiting features with potential interest for industrial and environmental applications were isolated from the Rod Bay oil-enriched sample. In particular, hydrocarbon-degrading, cold-adapted bacteria were selectively enriched, isolated and screened for their ability to synthesize polyunsaturated fatty acids. Twenty two bacterial strains were isolated from the oil enrichment culture and identified. Eighteen isolates were found to be members of gamma-Proteobacteria, while the remainder were representatives of alpha-Proteobacteria, CFB and high G + C divisions.