A series of non-polar chlorophyll degradation products (NPCs) with greater than 10 components has been isolated from Black Sea sediment and identified as pyropheophorbide steryl esters by visible and mass spectrometry. These compounds have been previously observed in seawater and sediment trap samples, and may be formed during grazing of phytoplankton by zooplanktonic herbivores. In Black Sea sediments, NPCs constitute 14% of the total phorbins determined spectroscopically at 660 nm, and 39% of the total chlorophyll degradation products measured by high pressure liquid chromatography. NPCs therefore constitute a significant sedimentary sink for chlorophyll. The distribution of sterols released by hydrolysis of NPCs most closely resembles sterols in suspended particulate matter collected from the euphotic zone and is quite different from the distribution of solvent-extractable sterols in sediments. Sterols extracted from sediments have high concentrations of 4-methylsterols and high stanol/stenol ratios. NPC-derived sterols have very low concentrations of 4-methylsterols and low stanol/stenol ratios. We suggest that these differences reflect an enhanced preservation of NPCs in sediments relative to free sterols and phorbins. As a result, the original production of sterols in the euphotic zone may be more closely approximated by the distribution of NPC-derived sterols than by the distribution of free sterols in sediments.