When you look at a marine aquarium, you will see beautiful bright colored fish, rocks, reef aquaria and other underwater inhabitants showcased in a clean and well-lit glass or acrylic tank. A balanced, safe and viable marine aquarium requires stringent water quality monitoring and distinct marine aquarium lighting.
If you are planning on setting up a marine aquarium, it’s imperative to know the differences between aquarium light sources and choose the one that will work best for your budget, your tank and your aquarium inhabitants.
Before you choose your marine aquarium lighting, there are many factors to be aware of and questions to ask yourself and most importantly, what type of aquarium are you planning to have:
Once you know what type of inhabitants will be living in your aquarium and you know the surface area and the depth of the tank, you can now move on to choosing the perfect lighting solution for your marine aquarium.
There are many different color spectrums of lighting to choose from; red, orange and yellow light will only penetrate a short distance in the water, while blue and white light will penetrate the deepest.
Here is some more information about light spectrum through water:
Choosing Your Lighting
Your aquarium should be placed away from direct sunlight and places where there are fluctuating temperatures. Natural sunlight as a means for aquarium light is undesirable due to its yellow tint, low spectrum of lighting, and problems with unwanted algae.
One of the most popular and natural looking lighting sources for most marine aquariums would be the metal halide lamp. These lamps are able to penetrate the water at deeper levels compared to fluorescent and LED lighting. Because this light source can be hung from a ceiling or wall above the aquarium, a benefit to metal halides is that they can be easily adjusted. If you ever needed to change the distance from your light source to the water surface, it would be a simple task.
250-watt bulbs will work best in most aquariums unless the aquarium is deeper than 24′ and in that case, 400-watt bulbs would provide better light penetration. For every 2-3 feet of tank, it is recommended to have one halide bulb.
If you are looking for another type of lighting, high intensity fluorescents may be considered. Fluorescents display a more intense light and they are best used in soft coral reefs and full reef aquariums. It’s essential to know what lighting requirements your tank inhabitants require. Without sufficient lighting, corals may not survive.
There are several different kinds of fluorescent lighting; two of the most popular kinds are T5 and T8 bulbs. These types of bulbs may be found in similar color ratings as the metal halide bulbs we previously mentioned.
T5 and T8 Lighting
T5 and T8 lighting come in the form of fluorescent tubes that are 5/8th inch to 1 inch in diameter and come in many different outputs and lengths. In order to help explain the differences and similarities of both bulbs, here is a helpful list:
LED lighting has been proven to be cost effective and it’s used as a dependable lighting source. If you do not wish to continually change your broken bulbs or maintain fluorescent lights periodically, perhaps LED lighting is your best option. Aquarium LED lights have a much longer lifespan than metal halide bulbs or fluorescent tubes.
Because LED lights use a small amount of energy, they are a very efficient source and will require less cooling equipment to counteract any that that they produce. If you choose to go with LED lighting, you may need to use a few source points to make sure the light spreads evenly and provides proper concentration for the entire tank.
Unlike fluorescent lighting and metal halide lighting, LED lights have a life of around 50,000 hours (that’s about 14 years at 10 hours a day!) with no noteworthy light quality degradation and less than 20% output reduction over that lifespan. Taking into account how many times you would have to change fluorescent tubes or metal halide bulbs over that period, LED lighting is fantastic value for money.
Actinic lighting is light that helps to facilitate photosynthesis, which is beneficial to coral and light sensitive invertebrate inhabitants. This type of lighting is best used in reef aquariums. Actinic lighting is also very pleasing to the eye as it accentuates the fluorescents of fluorescent fish.
Suggested Lighting Types
Full Reef Aquarium: T5, Metal Halide, LED, Actinic lights
Soft Coral Reef: T5, Metal Halide, LED
Fish Only With Live Rock: T5, LED
Fish Only Systems: T5, T8, LED
High intensity lighting might lead to a considerable amount of heat to your aquarium, making it harder to keep the tank at its cool temperature. Make sure you are keeping your marine aquarium temperature stable, as fluctuations between hot and cold can be detrimental to your marine environment.
Here is a very helpful and detailed lighting overview chart created by Drs Fosters and Smith.
Having a lighting routine cycle that mimics day and night is beneficial for fish and other inhabitants since it helps to establish a routine, makes them feel secure and allows them to rest. As you can see, each type of lighting source has their advantages and disadvantages. As a general rule, lighting should mimic the sunlight found in the natural habitat of the inhabitants.