We investigated the production of hydrogen peroxide (HOOH) in illuminated seawater media containing a variety of zwitterionic buffers. Production rates varied extensively among buffers, with 4-(2-hydroxyethyl)1-piperazineethanesulfonic acid (HEPES) highest and N-Tris(hydroxymethyl)methyl-3-aminopropanesulfonic acid (TAPS) among the lowest. The rate of HOOH accumulation was remarkably consistent over many days, and increased linearly with buffer concentration, natural seawater concentration, and light level. Concentrations of HEPES commonly used in culture media (1–10 mM) generated enough HOOH to kill the axenic Prochlorococcus strain VOL1 during growth in enriched seawater media at lower, environmentally realistic cell concentrations and/or under high light exposure. We also demonstrated that HEPES can be used experimentally to study the biological effects of chronic exposure to sublethal levels of HOOH such as may be experienced by light-exposed microorganisms.