Hey fellow saltwater aquarium fans,

Today lighting a reef aquarium is a veritable minefield of different technologies, colour temperatures, wattages, pros and cons all for what will probably be your largest reef aquarium investment. Most people panic about lighting because there are so many damn options! It doesn’t have to be confusing.

A stunning reef, one of natures masterpieces

A stunning reef, one of natures masterpieces

Appropriate lighting for your aquarium depends on the light requirements of your photosynthetic organisms (which ideally will be similar); if the corals you plan to keep are not photosynthetic things get much easier! Shallower living organisms need more light intensity than deeper living organisms these can all be placed appropriately in the aquarium so they are happy and neither melt or starve for light. Generally there are low light species such as large polyped stony corals (LPS), moderate light species such as many soft corals and high light loving including many small polyped stony corals (SPS) and Tridacnid clams.

A good rule I use is to position corals lower in the tank and gradually move the coral up for a few weeks at a time, take a photo at each move with the position at which the coral appears most expanded being optimal! Corals do best under full spectrum (daylight bulbs) as the main running lights for 8-12 hours a day with 2 hours either side using just actinic bulbs for a dawn/dusk effect this provides a very natural rhythm.

In terms of lighting set ups, you will need to do your own research to see what suits you, but for what its worth my personal opinion is that the new LED lights are the best because they provide high light intensity with low electricity cost and heat production, unfortunately they are quite new so are still quite expensive.

Good popular lighting choices are power compacts with their small footprint and T5 high output fluorescents which are very reasonable in price and don’t take up much room or generate much heat compared with metal halide lights which are tops for intensity and also have good colour but are so hot they can be a fire hazard and often require the use of an aquarium chiller. Ongoing electricity and bulb replacement costs also need to be evaluated when deciding what set up to go for.

LightingTo make things even more complicated lights come in different colour temperatures. As a general rule of thumb the bulbs needed to sustain photosynthetic life should have a colour temperature of around 6500°K – 12000°K for general reef applications (colour temperature increases with depth so much deeper water species require higher colour temperatures, these are very specialist). You should also aim for 3 (soft corals) to 5 (hard corals) watts of light per gallon of saltwater as another general rule, this will help you decide how many bulbs at what wattage you will need.

Today lighting a reef aquarium is a veritable minefield of different technologies, colour temperatures, wattages, pros and cons all for what will probably be your largest reef aquarium investment. Most people panic about lighting because there are so many damn options! It doesn’t have to be confusing.

Appropriate lighting for your aquarium depends on the light requirements of your photosynthetic organisms (which ideally will be similar); if the corals you plan to keep are not photosynthetic things get much easier! Shallower living organisms need more light intensity than deeper living organisms these can all be placed appropriately in the aquarium so they are happy and neither melt or starve for light. Generally there are low light species such as large polyped stony corals (LPS), moderate light species such as many soft corals and high light loving including many small polyped stony corals (SPS) and Tridacnid clams.

A good rule I use is to position corals lower in the tank and gradually move the coral up for a few weeks at a time, take a photo at each move with the position at which the coral appears most expanded being optimal! Corals do best under full spectrum (daylight bulbs) as the main running lights for 8-12 hours a day with 2 hours either side using just actinic bulbs for a dawn/dusk effect this provides a very natural rhythm.

Saltwater Aquarium LightingIn terms of lighting set ups, you will need to do your own research to see what suits you, but for what its worth my personal opinion is that the new LED lights are the best because they provide high light intensity with low electricity cost and heat production, unfortunately they are quite new so are still quite expensive.

Good popular lighting choices are power compacts with their small footprint and T5 high output fluorescents which are very reasonable in price and don’t take up much room or generate much heat compared with metal halide lights which are tops for intensity and also have good colour but are so hot they can be a fire hazard and often require the use of an aquarium chiller. Ongoing electricity and bulb replacement costs also need to be evaluated when deciding what set up to go for.

To make things even more complicated lights come in different colour temperatures. As a general rule of thumb the bulbs needed to sustain photosynthetic life should have a colour temperature of around 6500°K – 12000°K for general reef applications (colour temperature increases with depth so much deeper water species require higher colour temperatures, these are very specialist). You should also aim for 3 (soft corals) to 5 (hard corals) watts of light per gallon of saltwater as another general rule, this will help you decide how many bulbs at what wattage you will need.

Saltwater Aquarium Advice