SEM examination of suspended material collected by filtration from samples of surface waters over continental shelves and deeper areas off eastern Asia reveals the presence of irregular organic films that are longer, cover more filter area, and have more tapered edges in samples from nearshore than offshore regions. Associated diatoms include species diagnostic of coastal environments. Films and coastal diatoms are most abundant in waters above continental shelves where river discharges cause the waters to be more dilute than 33.5‰ salinity. Farther from shore, both films and skeletal elements are broken and partly dissolved. Skeletal elements, faecal matter, and other debris are trapped or adhere to the films, which therefore provide a concentrated food source for small organisms beyond nearshore regions of high primary productivity. The films contribute an unknown percentage of the total organic matter that reaches bottom sediments.