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Lighting and Corals: A Quick Note

These are some of my favorite small polyp stony corals. It’s interesting to have scientific evidence about what kind of lighting helps them to grow. One of the reasons I like them so much is that they are attractive but hardy and fast growing. It’s nice to know they perform well under pretty much whatever light you are going to use (as long as it penetrates the water).

Questions on lighting are the most frequent I get. what lighting should I have?

This study highlights something that has become true recently in the hobby, if you buy a nice LED set up it will be enough. Lights from EchoTech Marine, Aqua Illumination (what I use) and other reputable companies will be more than enough. I have a 20 gallon tank with a single AI Prime light on it and I can grow anything I want in it. The light is customizable and controllable in pretty much every way I can think of via my phone. In the study they showed that the corals grew pretty much equally well under the different types of light. They were talking about specific spectrum but the lights you buy, such as the AI Prime, have all the different spectral needs built right into them.

One of the main things that comes up at this point is price. How much is a Prime light, a single one? I admit, it’s a lot.

Click to see the AI Prime on Amazon
Click to see the AI Prime on Amazon

And sometimes, depending on the size of your tank you will need more than one. My larger tank as $1400 worth of lights on it and that’s after downsizing and selling off two fixtures. So I get it, lights can be expensive. But there are alternatives. Look at the things the expensive lights do and find cheaper ones that do similar things. Perhaps  you won’t find one that is cheap and controllable. Okay, there are ways around that. Timers and altering the height from the water for example do the trick nicely. While I can use the controller to dim my lights, you can just raise yours up. I can use the controller to set the time they go on and off to a very fine degree, even mimicking the arc of the sun in the sky, but you can get a useful effect with a simple timer. I recommend you spend as much on lights as you can, go with LED’s, and realize you will keep them for years and years and use them on various tanks. But if you can’t do that, then find an LED that does work. I recently found a very nice LED bulb at Home Depot for $12 that has multiple colors of LED on it and which is designed for growing plants. Many corals have the same requirements as far as lighting goes as plants. I use the bulb for growing algae in my refugium but growing down there are also several soft corals that seem to be doing well under the light. So if you aren’t planning on getting high light SPS a $12 bulb from Home Depot might just be enough for you.

My point is, I often see people over thinking lighting. the companies that make the lights have done most of the thinking and planning for us and if budget is an issue (when isn’t it) then there are simple alternatives that you can use just by looking what the big boys do and copying that. But if corals are what you want, I’m telling you from experience, it’s worth waiting to get the coral and saving for the best light you can get. Enjoy a fish only tank for a while as you save the pennies required for the controllable high dollar light you really want.



The below article inspired this blog post. 

Corals under different light

After 10 weeks of culture, S. pistillata showed a specific growth rate of 1.00% to 1.27% (Fig. 4). For P. cylindrica, this range was 1.09 % to 1.56% (Fig. 4). No main effect of spectrum or species on coral growth rates was found. Thus, generally, the corals grew at comparable rates under the three light spectra provided. However, an interactive effect of spectrum and species was found (Table 1). This was reflected by a higher growth of P. cylindrica compared to S. pistillata under white light only (F1,23=9.

Source: Study: Effects of light spectrum on growth and colouration of the corals Stylophora pistillata and Porites cylindrica — Advanced Aquarist | Aquarist Magazine and Blog