Abstract Xiangshan Bay is an estuary in China which borders on the East China Sea. The circulation in the estuary is driven by tidal movement, residual current, the internal density distribution, and synoptic wind forcing; however, the last three are not the main dynamic factors affecting nutrient transport. Because the estuary tends to be eutrophic, a synoptic study was carried out to assess the influence of tidal movement on the nutrient distribution patterns within the estuary and to estimate the fluxes of nutrient transport between the estuary and the sea. Nitrate and ammonium are found to be exported from the estuarine water to the coastal water under usual tidal conditions, except for storm tides which result in large amounts being imported because of the extremely high concentrations in the coastal bottom water. Exports of phosphate and silicate are shown to be consistent during spring tides and neap tides in all seasons. However, the usual tidal regimes resulted in only minor nutrient exchange except during abnormal events.