Polar benthic communities are subject to a range of disturbance levels from a variety of sources, principal amongst which is ice. This occurs in four main forms: the ice-foot, ice scour, anchor ice and fast ice, each of which influences benthos in a very different temporal and spatial manner. The four described forms of ice disturbance are all seasonal, but combined, influence communities throughout the year. The magnitude of ice mediated disturbance is often catastrophic and as a result both dominates benthic community structure and makes recolonization and development rates critical. This disturbance extremity results in high temporal and spatial heterogeneity, very low intertidal zone diversity and in places low mid–sublittoral diversity. It may also, however, be important in generating and maintaining the typically high sublittoral zone diversity observed at many polar localities. Intermediate frequencies or magnitudes of disturbance have been controversially discussed as important in maintaining diversity by prevention of space monopolization by overgrowth dominants in such environments as the deep sea. The shelf areas examined to date certainly suggest intermediate disturbance is important in maintaining polar sublittoral zone diversity. The combination of slow colonization and development with high frequencies of disturbance means most polar nearshore environments that have been described are permanently in a state of change or recovery.