We report that cell wall polymers in the chlorophyte algae may be modified by O -acetylation. The importance of cell wall modifications in the green algae is not well understood, although similar modifications play key roles in land plants by modulating the properties of cell wall carbohydrate polymers. Using a combination of biophysical (Fourier-transform infrared and cross-polarisation heteronuclear correlation nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy), biochemical (thin-layer chromatography) and molecular approaches (yellow fluorescent protein-tagged transgene localisation), we show that the extractable ulvan fractions of Ulva compressa cell walls contain O -acetyl sidechains, we demonstrate that acetylation is dynamic and decreases reversibly in response to metal-induced stress, we note interactions between acetyl and borate sidechains and we locate two candidate genes that, together, may encode an acetyltransferase. We therefore propose that O -acetylation of ulvan residues is involved in the normal cell wall physiology of at least some chlorophyte algae. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of O -acetyl sidechains in green algal cell wall polymers, and of reversible changes in algal cell wall polymer modification in response to stress.