The influence of sedimentation, depth and substratum angle on sponge assemblages in the Wakatobi region, south-eastern Sulawesi, Indonesia was considered. Sponge assemblages were sampled from two reef localities. The first reef (Sampela) was highly impacted by high sedimentation rates with fine sediment particles that settle slowly, while the second (Hoga) experienced only fast settling coarse sediment with lower overall sedimentation rates. Sponge assemblages were sampled (area occupied and numbers) on the reef flat (0 m) and at 5 (reef crest), 10 and 15 m (15 m at Hoga only). Some significant (P<0·001) differences were observed in the area occupied and the number of sponge patches between surface angles and sites. Significantly lower (t>4·61, df=9, P<0·001) sponge numbers, percentage cover and richness were associated with the reef flat at both sites compared with all other depths at each site, with the exception of abundance of sponges on the reef flat at Sampela, which was much greater than at any other depth sampled. Species richness increased with depth at both sites but differences between surface angles were only recorded at Sampela, with higher species richness being found on vertical, inclined and horizontal surfaces respectively. A total of 100 sponge species (total area sampled 52·5 m2) was reported from the two sites, with 58 species found at Sampela and 71 species at Hoga (41% of species shared). Multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) indicated differences in assemblage structure between sites and most depth intervals, but not substratum angles. A number of biological (e.g. competition and predation) and physical (e.g. sedimentation and aerial exposure) factors were considered to control sponge abundance and richness. Unexpectedly a significant (F1,169=148·98, P<0·001) positive linear relationship was found between sponge density and area occupied. In areas of high sponge coverage, the number of patches was also high, possibly due to fragmentation of large sponges produced as a result of predation and physical disturbance. The MDS results were also the same whether sponge numbers or percentage cover estimates were used, suggesting that although these different approaches yield different sorts of information, the same assemblage structure can be identified.