Reef Aquarium Lighting Basics

You know what type of tank you want; you know the highlights of various filtration elements; now it’s time to learn the basics of lighting (intensity, color, bulb choice, illumination time, etc.).

How you light your tank depends not only on its size, but also on what will be kept in it; however, properly lighting your tank does not need to be a complicated endeavor. Just remember that lighting should promote the health of your tank’s inhabitants and be visually appealing.

The corals and other invertebrates in your aquarium have to utilize the only energy source that is readily available to them: light. Energy is required to produce nourishment for your reef tank so enough light must be present to provide that energy. There are various options available when it comes to lighting; it is important that your reef tank be lit as strongly as possible relative to the space available.

Though lighting needs to be energy efficient for your tank, it also needs to be visually pleasing because, well, a reef aquarium is intended to be aesthetically beautiful. Blue lights (actinic fluorescent tubes and high color temperature metal halide lamps) are very effective in satisfying both of these needs.

Actinic lamps are exceptionally blue in coloration and cause many corals to bio-fluoresce, showing beautiful colors. However, to prevent your aquarium from appearing eerily blue, you may want to balance your lighting by using a 1:1 ratio with daylight lamps. Also, you can time the lights to simulate sunrise and sunset so that the tank inhabitants aren’t startled as would be the case if lamps were suddenly turned on.

Metal halide lamps don’t cause corals to bio-fluoresce, but they do produce a blue cast to the aquarium. To choose which lighting is best for viewing in your aquarium, you may want to mimic the lighting choice of an already-established aquarium that appeals to you; or experiment.

To gather detailed information on the various types of lighting, please select from the following links:

  • T5, NO and VHO Reef Lighting
  • Metal Halide Lighting
  • Power Compact Lighting