Short-term photosensitivity and oxidative stress responses were compared for three groups of marine microalgae: Antarctic microalgae, temperate diatoms and temperate flagellates. In total, 15 low-light-acclimated species were exposed to simulated surface irradiance including ultraviolet radiation (SSI). Photosensitivity was assessed as the rate of recovery of Fv/Fm in the hours following SSI treatment. Before, during and after the SSI treatment, oxidative stress responses were assessed by following xanthophyll content and cycling, and activities of superoxide dismutase, ascorbate peroxidase and glutathione reductase, and glutathione redox status. When acclimated to low irradiance, antioxidant levels were not group specific. Superoxide dismutase activity was positively correlated with cell size, whereas in general, ascorbate peroxidase activity appeared to be lower and glutathione redox status appeared to be higher in the Antarctic than in the temperate species. After SSI exposure, the strong inhibition of PSII was followed by variable rates of recovery, although four species remained photosynthetically inactive. SSI tolerance appeared unrelated to geographic or taxonomic background, or to cell size. PSII recovery was enhanced in species with decreasing superoxide dismutase activity, glutathione redox status and increased xanthophyll cycle activity. We conclude that antioxidant responses are highly species specific and not related to the geographic or taxonomic background. Furthermore, xanthophyll cycling seems more important than antioxidants. Finally, it can be hypothesized that glutathione could function as a stress sensor and response regulator.