The summer spatial distribution of the phytoplankton community in the Gulf of Gabès (Tunisia, eastern Mediterranean Sea), together with environmental factors, were studied during a preliminary study conducted in July 2005 aboard the RV ‘Hannibal’. The phytoplankton community, which showed a decrease in concentration along a coastal–open sea gradient, was dominated by Dictyochophyceae (41%) followed by Dinophyceae (25%), Bacillariophyceae (16%), Cyanobacteriae (17%) and Euglenophyceae (1%). The phytoplankton found along the coast was dominated by opportunistic species (e.g. Dictyocha fibula) associated with high nutrient availability. In the open sea, phytoplankton development seemed influenced by Atlantic hydrodynamics. In addition, the Gulf of Gabès is characterized by an oligotrophic status with a summer stratification that impacted on species composition especially in off-shore areas. The coupling of phytoplankton dynamics to nutrients, ciliates and copepods showed the potential role played by ciliates not only as predators of phytoplankton but also as prey for filter-feeding copepods accounting for the increased fisheries productivity of the Gulf of Gabès.