Study of an algal, sapropelic sediment from Mangrove Lake, Bermuda shows that the mass balance of carbon and stable carbon isotopes in the major organic constituents is accounted for by a relatively straightforward model of selective preservation during diagenesis. The loss of 13C-enriched carbohydrates is the principal factor controlling the intermolecular mass balance of 13C in the sapropel. Results indicate that labile components are decomposed leaving as a residual concentrate in the sediment an insoluble humic substance that may be an original biochemical component of algae and associated bacteria. An overall decrease of up to about 4??? in the ?? 13C values of the organic matter is observed as a result of early diagenesis. ?? 1984.