Saltwater Aquarium Lighting

What is Saltwater Aquarium Lighting?

Saltwater aquarium lighting is the artificial reproduction of marine light to the benefit of all marine life, thriving within the confines of any given artificial ecosystem. The study of saltwater lighting can be directed into three main areas of interest to the aquarium hobbyist, fish-only tanks, reef-only tanks, and lighting combinations. Fish-only tanks tend to need less attention as to the kinds of bulbs and tubes chosen for the reproduction of night and day. Reef-only tanks are more sensitive however, and depend on the delicate balance of photosynthesis for survival. Lighting combinations vary in accordance to the different depths being imitated in the marine aquarium.

The study of light is traditionally found in physics, while the study of the sea is found in marine biology; the biophysics of marine light, is a broad area that blends these fields in a fascinating and poetic fashion. If a fish-only saltwater aquarium is what the hobbyist is doing, then this part of understanding how light works underwater may not be so important, unless dealing with certain kinds of light sensitive fish, but mostly standard plastic aquarium hoods bought at the local pet store come with the proper wattage per gallon. In a 55 gallon saltwater aquarium for example, a common twin tube hood will produce 5,500K (Kelvin) each for about 20,000 hrs, which is usually plenty of light for fish to distinguish the difference between night and day. Concentrating on just one aspect of the saltwater aquarium at any given stage can be most useful, and beginners can find doing the one tank for one thing method most helpful, as it gives them time to research more thoroughly each area before developing more complicated environments.

Reef-only saltwater aquariums are more exiting to biophysicists interested in dealing with marine lighting, as the possibilities expand in accordance to the level of diversity and depth. Three to five watts per gallon in a reef aquarium can be considered ideal in a reef-only tank if shallow enough, as it should provide the intensity adequate for photosynthesis. But more importantly, coral life is structured around depth which is measured in CRI (Color Rendition Index) or K (Kelvin). Different species of coral live at different spectrums and the rule for basic color spectrum is; the deeper a reef goes, the darker the light becomes, with rapid change, until no light is left. This representation of the color spectrum found in aquarist’s tanks must be introduced one species at a time, as there are different species of coral that prefer different depths.

Lighting combinations will vary according to what thriving in the aquascape. Aquarists use diverse methods to adequately offer lighting, but aside from using a skylight aquarium based around the sun and moon, artificial jargons range from fluorescents and metal halides, to Wattage, CRI (Color Rendition Index) and K (Kelvin). With wattage, longer tubes provide more watts, and categories in watts range form NO (normal output), HO (high output) and VHO (very high output). The two different kinds of lighting most common are fluorescent and metal halides. Metal halides tend to be far closer to natural light, but at far higher temperatures, and can usually call for refrigeration units to keep the temperature of the water at a certain level; they also should be kept at about 12 inches from the surface of the water. Fluorescent lighting needs to be bought at different CRI or K to produce the desired effect inside the aquarium, so as to cater to the different kinds of marine life and should be kept at about six inches from the top. Space is important when dealing with lighting as the aquarium’s surface water needs to be exposed to oxygen and have places to put tubing, filters, pumps… etc. However, a screen of some kind can help protect the fish from cats, and high-jumping contests.

Saltwater aquarium lighting is an excellent way to home school about the biophysics of marine light spectrums, and the different forms of aquatic life that can or cannot thrive at these different depths. For beginners, a fish-only tank could be less troublesome when not fully understanding the whole concept of underwater light in the sea. For reef-only enthusiasts, this science can become an intriguing vision into the aesthetically pleasing realm of underwater rainbows. Choosing the proper combination of lighting for the given saltwater aquarium environment is simple once the details of that environment’s natural setting has been well studied and understood.

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Posted in Articles on August 22, 2005.

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