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Culturable vibrios were isolated from water and plankton fractions collected during an 18-month sampling study performed along the north-central coast of the Adriatic Sea (Italy). Unculturable Vibrio vulnificus and V. parahaemolyticus were detected in plankton fractions by polymerase chain reaction amplification of DNA sequences for cytotoxin-haemolysin and thermolabile haemolysin respectively. The presence of V. parahaemolyticus, V. vulnificus and V. cholerae virulence genes and the expression of pathogenicity-associated traits were analysed in all isolates. The results showed the spreading of these properties among the environmental isolates and confirm the need of both monitoring the presence of vibrios in coastal areas and studying their pathogenicity potential in order to properly protect human health.