Two regionally significant microbial-foraminiferal episodes (∼150 kyr each) occur within the Early Aptian shallow marine platform in Oman and throughout eastern Arabia. The stratigraphically lower of these two intervals is characterized by isolated or coalescent domes that share similarities with modern, open-marine stromatolites from the Exuma Cays, Bahamas. The upper interval is predominantly built by a problematic Lithocodium/Bacinella consortium in buildup and massive boundstone facies. Based on high-resolution chemostratigraphy, these shoalwater intervals are coeval with oceanic anoxic event 1a (OAE1a; Livello Selli). Field evidence demonstrates that the buildup episodes alternate with stratigraphic intervals dominated by rudist bivalves. This biotic pattern is also recognized in other coeval Tethyan sections and is perhaps a characteristic shoalwater expression of the OAE1a. The short-lived regional expansions of this microbial-foraminiferal out-of-balance facies cannot be explained by local environmental factors (salinity and oxygen level) alone and the buildup consortia do not occupy stressed refugia in the absence of grazing metazoans. Judging from recent analogues, the main fossil groups, i.e. microbial assemblages, macroalgae, larger sessile foraminifera, and rudist bivalves, all favoured elevated trophic levels but with different tolerance limits. The implication of this is that the influence of palaeofertility events, possibly related to OAE1a, on carbonate platform community structures must be investigated. The observations made in these coastal sections are a significant first step for the improved understanding of the Early Aptian period of biotic, oceanic and climatic change. © 2005 International Association of Sedimentologists.