Choosing lighting for your aquarium: Why is lighting important for your aquarium? Simply being able to observe the aquarium first of all, but second, the fish and other organisms in the tank need light to survive. Fish require lighting more for behaviour and physiology while the plants, corals, and anemones need light for photosynthesis. Although fish do not require as much light as corals, we do plan on having corals in our tank, so what type of lighting is important to consider.
Corals are not plants, but invertebrates that house tiny plant-like photosynthetic organisms living in it that feed it. These organisms are called zooxanthellae, a photosynthetic algae, able to use light to convert the waste of the corals to create energy for their host.
Lighting is not only about cosmetics, but the wavelength of light is important too. Light from the blue side of the spectrum has a shorter wavelength, which can penetrate deeper into the tank and reach the corals on the bottom. Visible light with the longest wavelength is red and travels a shorter distance into the tank. Longer wavelengths get filtered out more quickly by the properties of water. Because both sides of the light spectrum are important, most tanks have at least 1 yellow bulb, and 1 blue bulb.
LED lighting is very popular now, but is still quite expensive in terms of aquarium lighting. Other types of lighting are Normal Output fluorescent bulbs, Very High Output (VHO) bulbs, Power Compact bulbs, T5 High Output bulbs, Metal Halide, and Actinic bulbs. Each have their pro and cons and it seems as each aquarists has their own personal opinion, but we went with two T5 bulbs. These bulbs are very efficient, very bright, produce less heat than other bulbs such as the metal halide, and were within our budget. We paid about $29 per bulb. Bulbs need reflectors that attach to the top of them to direct the light down into the tank. These were $25 each. The ballast, which steps up the voltage of the power to excite the gas inside the bulbs, was $50. As important as lighting is for an aquarium, $160 seems reasonable. The brand we went with is ATI, a German company that specializes is marine equipment. They seem to be popular with other hobbyist and was recommended at Preuss Pets.
Until our canopy is complete for housing the lighting, we have set the lighting on top of the aquarium. The lights are on a timer to mimic day and night cycles. The range of time that aquarists leave their lights on are anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. This give the corals plenty of time to photosynthesize. We have our timer set to turn on at 9am, and go out at 9pm.
Now that we have the tank set up, water chemistry becoming stable, and lights on we are ready for our first fish!