The significance of reef tank lighting; a semi-scientific documentary.

With the constant debates about different lights and which is better, I figured I'd share a recent experience. Many people believe lighting is...

  1. With the constant debates about different lights and which is better, I figured I'd share a recent experience. Many people believe lighting is everything, and expensive lights will keep expensive corals. Many other people believe that water parameters and husbandry play the biggest role. And the majority of people probably fall somewhere in the middle and agree that you can't value one over the other; they are all important and need to be given equal attention.

    As for us, we have a pretty vast collection of corals in our store and focus more on stable water parameters. We invested in Hydras and ATI T5 lights for our coral tanks and the risks associated with experimenting on our tanks are not very appealing to me. Our set-up works well, and I'm happy to keep it that way for now. Any customer tanks we set up, we usually just build them similar to the store set-up, because we know it works. But we have one reef tank that we service and we initially set it up a little different due to the style of tank. It's a corner tank with a cover, and no room for a sump. But the customer wanted a reef tank, so we did the best we could and put a Reef Octopus HOB skimmer and chose some lights that fit perfectly on the cover.

    Those lights happened to be 2 x 18" Orbit Marine Pros. They are nice lights, with a good passive heatsink, and have independent programmable white and blue channels with sunrise/sunset features. They are bright, and will actually bleach the corals if I turn them up all the way. Corals under them look ok... They don't have that nice pop like other lights with a big peak in the 450nm range. But the corals grew under them and the tank was ok.


    Every week I'd go there to clean the tank, and look at it and think to myself how it looks ok. For the past year or so, ever since installing the tank, I've done this. But I'm not satisfied with ok, and it really bothered me. So I decided to step out of my comfort zone and experiment!

    A few weeks ago, I brought a Hydra 26 with me when I went to do the weekly service. I swapped out the lights and... well, I wasn't blown away. It looked ok... The corals looked nicer; there was more pop, but it wasn't worth writing home to Mom about. I wanted to return it to the way it was, because I was worried about what could happen during the week until I came back to clean it again. It's completely automated; the client does not touch the tank, they don't even feed the fish. I was afraid the new lights would shock the corals and I'd come back next week to a bleached white tank that crashed over the weekend. But I took the risk and left the tank for a week. Came back the following Monday, and now I was feeling the breeze. In fact if I hadn't been hanging on, I might have been blown away. This tank had looked meh for so long, I forgot what the corals were supposed to look like. With no changes other than the light, it looked like this after just one week.


    Pretty good! A little algae on the glass, but man look at how puffy everything is! The acan and BTA were almost impossible to see in the first pic, now they are jumping out at you. The elegance is looking quite elegant. And the sinularia is standing up rigid instead of hanging over, limp and wilted. I did my thing, and left it for another week, anxious to see the progress.

    We are now at week three, and there is a bit of an algae bloom. But the corals are darkening up and still getting puffier. I really can't believe the difference.


    I believe this can be used as a fairly reliable case study regarding the effect of different lighting. The tank has been set up and stable for nearly a year. I'm the only person that touches it. It's in a temperature controlled environment. Everything is automated, so no chance of overfeeding or doing something different. Every week I do the same exact thing: vacuum the gravel, scrape the glass, clean the skimmer, and change 15 gallons of water.

    Gotta say, I've convinced myself, maybe sometimes it's a good idea to experiment!

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