In order to manage phosphorus (P) losses from soils to waterbodies, knowledge of the mechanisms through which P is retained or released from the soil is essential. Sandy soils of the Peel-Harvey catchment (Western Australia) were subjected to a range of environmental and management factors in the laboratory and field in order to gain an understanding of the mechanisms that affect the magnitude of P losses. Sandy soils accumulated P, despite having little sorption capacity, and this accumulation could be monitored by measuring an acid-extractable fraction. The potential, short-term P loss could be estimated by determination of water-soluble soil solution P prior to winter rains. An annual cycle of the change in arbitrarily defined soil-P pools is discussed in relation to environmental and management factors. Laboratory experiments indicated that P rundown and potential annual P loss in the absence of P fertilizers could be estimated using bicarbonate extractable P. Phosphorus losses were decreased by the application of fertilizers with a low content of water-soluble P. The low ability of sandy soils of the Peel-Harvey coastal catchment to retain P, when compared to other Western Australian soils, is because of low contents of clay minerals and iron and aluminium hydrous oxides.