To assess the effects of UV radiation (280–400 nm) on development, oxidative damage and antioxidant defence in larvae of the tropical sea urchin Tripneustes gratilla, a field experiment was conducted at two depths in Aitutaki, Cook Islands (18.85°S, 159.75°E) in May 2008. Compared with field controls (larvae shielded from UV-R but exposed to VIS-radiation), UV-B exposure resulted in developmental abnormality and increases in oxidative damage to proteins (but not lipids) in embryos of T. gratilla held at 1 m depth. Results also indicated that larvae had the capacity to increase the activities of protective antioxidant enzymes when exposed to UV-B. The same trends in oxidative damage and antioxidant defence were observed for embryos held at 4 m, although the differences were smaller and more variable. In contrast to UV-B exposure, larvae exposed to UV-A only showed no significant increases in abnormality or oxidative damage to lipids and proteins compared with field controls. This was true at both experimental depths. Furthermore, exposure to UV-A did not cause a significant increase in the activities of antioxidants. This study indicates that oxidative stress is an important response of tropical sea urchin larvae to exposure to UV radiation.