To understand the role of phytoplankton resting cells in the outbreak of algal blooms, particularly harmful algal blooms, surface sediments were collected monthly from April 2007 to March 2008 from two bays near the international ports in the Southern Chinese coastal waters. Sieved sediments were incubated for 20 and 40 days, and germinated vegetative cells were observed. Altogether, 97 taxa were recorded, of which 50 were diatoms and 35 dinoflagellates. Vegetative cells of cyanobacteria, chlorophytes, dictyophytes, euglenophytes, haptophytes, and raphidophytes were also observed. Centric diatoms such as Chaetoceros, Melosira, Skeletonema, and Thalassiosira dominated. Scrippsiella, Gymnodinium, and Alexandrium were common dinoflagellate taxa. Diatom spores germinated in samples from all seasons but were abundant in the autumn and winter samples. Low numbers of dinoflagellate cells germinated in the winter samples. The nanophytoplankton taxa, Gymnodinium corii and Chrysochromulina sp., which have not been recorded in the previous phytoplankton surveys, were abundant, suggesting either their new appearance in the water column or perhaps that they were overlooked in routine phytoplankton monitoring due to their small sizes. Vegetative cells of harmful or potentially harmful taxa were germinated, and some of them such as Amphidinium, Gambierdiscus, Ostreopsis, and Coolia have not previously been reported in the study area. Based on the results of the incubation of sediments from the two bays near the international ports, it is suggested that international shipping increases the risk of the introduction of new phytoplankton species and thus promotes the incidence of harmful algal blooms.