Tropical ocean ecosystems are predicted to become warmer, more saline, and less fertile in a future Earth. The Red Sea, one of the warmest and most saline environments in the world, may afford insights into the function of the tropical ocean ecosystem in a changing planet. We show that the concentration of chlorophyll and the duration of the phytoplankton growing season in the Red Sea are controlled by the strength of the winter Arabian monsoon (through horizontal advection of fertile waters from the Indian Ocean). Furthermore, and contrary to expectation, in the last decade (1998–2010) the winter Red Sea phytoplankton biomass has increased by 75% during prolonged positive phases of the Multivariate El Niño–Southern Oscillation Index. A new mechanism is reported, revealing the synergy of monsoon and climate in regulating Red Sea greenness.