Photosynthesis is a unique process that allows independent colonization of the land by plants and of the oceans by phytoplankton. Although the photosynthesis process is well understood in plants, we are still unlocking the mechanisms evolved by phytoplankton to achieve extremely efficient photosynthesis. Here, we combine biochemical, structural and in vivo physiological studies to unravel the structure of the plastid in diatoms, prominent marine eukaryotes. Biochemical and immunolocalization analyses reveal segregation of photosynthetic complexes in the loosely stacked thylakoid membranes typical of diatoms. Separation of photosystems within subdomains minimizes their physical contacts, as required for improved light utilization. Chloroplast 3D reconstruction and in vivo spectroscopy show that these subdomains are interconnected, ensuring fast equilibration of electron carriers for efficient optimum photosynthesis. Thus, diatoms and plants have converged towards a similar functional distribution of the photosystems although via different thylakoid architectures, which likely evolved independently in the land and the ocean.