Exposure of Fucus spiralis germlings to precise copper concentrations (0 to 844 nM Cu2+) in chemically defined medium demonstrated a relationship between ultrastructural changes and growth retardation with increasing copper concentration. Electron-translucent vesicles, present in ova, which normally disappear after fertilization, accumulated in germlings exposed to Cu2+ above 10·6 nM, suggesting that copper may inhibit a metabolic pathway involved in cell wall formation which is initiated by fertilization. No membrane damage was observed during the exposure period. During a post-exposure period in copper-free medium, recovery occurred (rhizoid extension, apical hair formation) in germlings previously exposed to concentrations below 106 nM Cu2+ and electron-translucent vesicles became granular and disappeared. It is proposed that the electron-translucent vesicles contain a cell wall precursor and that copper inhibits its incorporation into the cell wall, preventing growth and development of the zygote.