Recent studies demonstrate that volcanic ash has the potential to increase phytoplankton biomass in the open ocean. However, besides fertilizing trace metals such as Fe, volcanic ash contains a variety of potentially toxic metals such as Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn. Especially in coastal regions closer to the volcanic eruption, where ash depositions can be very high, toxic effects are possible. Here we present the first results from laboratory experiments, showing that trace metal release from different volcanic ashes can have both fertilizing and toxic effects on marine phytoplankton in natural coastal seawater. The diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana generally showed higher growth rates in seawater that was in short contact with volcanic ash compared to the controls without ash addition. In contrast to that, the addition of volcanic ash had either no effect or significantly decreased the growth rate of the coccolithophoride Emiliania huxleyi. It was not possible to attribute the effects to single trace metals, however, our results suggest that Mn plays an important role in regulating the antagonistic and synergistic effects of the different trace metals. This study shows that volcanic ash can lead to changes in the phytoplankton species composition in the high fall-out area of the surface ocean. (C) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.