Conversion factors for calculating carbon biomass of Phaeocystis sp. colonies and free-living cells were determined from microscopic observations and chemical analysis conducted on cultured and natural Phaeocystis sp. populations originating from the Southern Bight of the North Sea in 1986 and 1987. They allow calculation, in terms of carbon biomass, of the different forms of Phaeocystis sp. that succeed each other when the population is growing, on the basis of microscopic observations. The latter include enumerations of free-living cells (flagellated and non-motile) and colonies, as well as colonial biovolume measurement. Specific application to natural populations from Dutch coastal waters during spring 1986 shows that more than 90% of Phaeocystis sp. carbon biomass is under colonial form, most of it exceeding the grazing characteristics of current zooplankton at this period of the year. Detailed analysis of seasonal changes shows in addition that the size of the colonies greatly increases during the course of Phaeocystis sp. flowering, reaching sizes as high as 1 mm diameter at the top of the bloom when nutrients are depleted. Physiologically this corresponds to an enhanced synthesis of mucilaginous substances, with the decrease of available nutrients leading to an increasing contribution of the matrix to the total colonial carbon during the course of the bloom. Carbon content ofPhaeocystis sp. colonies therefore greatly varies with their size, ranging from 0.3 to 1430 ngC colony -1.