What is the Best Lighting System for Corals

What is the Best Lighting System for Corals?

Coral reef aquariums are mesmerizing and require adequate lighting for corals’ healthy growth and development. Therefore, choosing the best lighting system is crucial, as it contributes significantly to the success of a thriving reef ecosystem. Various factors such as intensity, spectrum, and the specific needs of different coral species must be considered when picking the correct setup.

LED lighting systems have become increasingly popular in reef keeping thanks to their energy efficiency, customizable features, and pleasing aesthetics. A well-designed LED system, such as the FLUVAL Sea Marine LED Lighting system or VIPARSPECTRA 165W LED lighting system, can offer optimal light schedules and promote the growth of the corals by emulating their natural environment. Additionally, some LED systems come with pre-programmed modes and adjustable parameters, making setting up and maintaining the lighting for your reef tank easier.

When setting up your selected reef lighting system, it is essential to understand the individual light requirements of the corals you plan to grow. Proper selection and adjustment of intensity and color spectrum will ensure that your corals receive sufficient lighting for photosynthesis, ultimately leading to a flourishing and well-balanced aquarium. Pay attention to your tank inhabitants’ growth and health, and adjust the lighting parameters accordingly to provide optimal conditions for coral development.

Understanding Coral Lighting Requirements

PAR and Photosynthesis

Corals rely heavily on light for their energy needs, specifically through photosynthesis. In this process, corals use the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae living inside their tissues to convert light energy into “food.” An essential factor to consider in coral lighting is Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR), the range of light wavelengths corals use for photosynthesis. Research shows that the ideal average PAR for corals is between 100 and 200 PAR. Providing too much PAR might be ineffective and can inhibit photosynthesis, potentially damaging the coral.

Some general points to consider for PAR requirements include:

  • Soft corals: 50 – 150 PAR
  • LPS corals: 100 – 200 PAR
  • SPS corals: 200 – 400 PAR

Color Spectrum and Coral Growth

Apart from PAR, the color spectrum of light also plays a significant role in coral growth and health. The color spectrum is the range of visible light wavelengths corals use for photosynthesis and other processes. While corals can utilize light from different parts of the spectrum, the most efficient wavelengths for photosynthesis are in the blue and red regions of the spectrum.

Regarding coral growth and coloration, providing a balanced mix of blue and white light is crucial. For corals collected from shallower waters (up to 6 meters or 19 feet), a 1:1 ratio of blue to white light channels is recommended.

Types of Lighting Systems

LED Lighting

LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting systems have become increasingly popular for coral reef aquariums due to their energy efficiency and customizable light spectrum.

These systems are available in various sizes, like the Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED light, which ranges from 18 to 60 inches in width, making them suitable for different aquarium dimensions. Additionally, LEDs provide the necessary photosynthetic active radiation (PAR), promoting coral growth and vibrant coloration.

T5 Fluorescent Lighting

T5 fluorescent lighting is another commonly used option for coral reef aquariums. These systems emit high light output without producing excessive heat. They are available in different color temperatures, allowing you to optimize the light spectrum for coral growth. Combining blue actinic and daylight bulbs can recreate the marine light conditions corals require for photosynthesis.

Metal Halide Lighting

Metal halide lighting was once the gold standard for reef aquariums, providing intense light to support coral growth in deep tanks. They emit a spectrum closely resembling sunlight, making them ideal for replicating natural marine environments.

Compact Fluorescent Lighting

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are an older technology than T5 systems but remain a viable option for coral reef aquariums. They offer similar light spectrum capabilities to T5s, with the advantage of being more compact, making them suitable for smaller tanks.

When setting up your lighting system, consider factors such as tank size, coral placement, and the specific light requirements of your corals. Maintain a moderate light intensity, between 150 to 250 PAR, to promote coral health and growth. Moreover, investing in a timer can help to mimic the natural day/night cycles for an optimal environment.

Comparing Lighting Systems for Corals

LEDs vs. T5 Fluorecents vs. Metal Halides

Regarding reef tanks, the choice of lighting is crucial for coral growth and overall health. Three main types of lighting systems are to consider: LED (Light Emitting Diode), T5 Fluorescent, and Metal Halide.

LEDs are the most popular choice for reef tanks due to their energy efficiency, customizability, and low heat output. In addition, they can provide a strong water penetration in the blue light spectrum necessary for coral growth. Products like the Current USA Orbit Marine come in various sizes, offering multiple options for different tank dimensions.

T5 Fluorescents have been a long-standing favorite among aquarists for their even coverage and proven efficiency in promoting coral growth. They also produce a blend of blue and white light, essential for corals’ photosynthesis process.

Metal Halides offer intense, bright light that encourages rapid coral growth. However, they generate significant heat and consume more energy than their counterparts.

Pros and Cons of Various Lighting Systems

Here are the pros and cons of various lighting systems:

LED Lighting:


  • Energy efficiency: LED lights consume less energy than other lighting systems, lowering electricity bills.
  • Customizable: LED lights come in various colors and can be programmed to create different lighting effects.
  • Low heat output: LEDs produce very little heat, reducing the risk of overheating and damaging sensitive organisms or objects.


  • Higher upfront cost: LED lighting systems typically have a higher initial investment than other options.
  • Potential for unequal light distribution: In some cases, LED lights may have difficulty providing uniform lighting across an entire area.

T5 Fluorescent Lighting:


  • Even coverage: T5 fluorescent lights are known for providing uniform lighting across a tank or an area.
  • Proven coral growth efficiency: T5 lights have been used successfully in coral reef aquariums, promoting healthy coral growth.


  • Limited customization: T5 lights offer fewer color options and lighting effects than LED systems.
  • Higher heat output and energy consumption: T5 fluorescents produce more heat than LEDs and consume more energy, resulting in higher utility costs.

Metal Halide Lighting:


  • Intense light: Metal halide lights produce intense illumination, benefiting specific applications such as high-light-demanding plants or corals.
  • Rapid coral growth: Metal halides have been known to stimulate faster coral growth.


  • High heat output: Metal halide lights generate significant heat, requiring proper cooling systems to prevent overheating.
  • Energy-intensive: Metal halides consume more electricity than LED or fluorescent lights, generating higher energy expenses.
  • Regular bulb replacement: Metal halide bulbs have a limited lifespan and must be replaced periodically, adding to maintenance costs.

Hybrid Systems

Hybrid systems combine the benefits of LEDs and T5 Fluorescents, providing comprehensive coverage and intense light for coral growth. These systems harness the efficiency, power, and control of LEDs and benefit from the extra PAR from T5 tubes, resulting in one of the most effective ways to illuminate a reef tank.

Setup and Customization

Most lighting systems come with adjustable settings that allow you to fine-tune color spectrum, intensity, and photoperiods for optimum coral growth. Finding the correct PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) for your specific coral species is important to ensure a healthy and vibrant reef tank. Some systems even feature remote or app-based controllers, enabling you to adjust lighting parameters easily.

Top Coral Lighting Recommendations

Current USA Orbit Marine LED Light

The Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED light is an excellent option for supporting coral growth in reef tanks. This light is available in various sizes, accommodating tank dimensions from 18 to 60 inches. Its high-quality LED lights with customizable colors and intensity levels create the optimal coral health and vibrancy spectrum.

Setting up the Current USA Orbit Marine LED light is simple, with a convenient installation process and an easy-to-use programming remote. It includes automatic sunrise, sunset, and moonlight settings, ensuring a natural day-night cycle in your aquarium.

Hipargero LED Aquarium Light

The Hipargero LED Aquarium Light offers full-spectrum lighting that promotes coral growth and improves aquarium aesthetics. This lighting system has a unique blend of blue, white, and ultraviolet (UV) LEDs, delivering the right amount of light across the entire color spectrum while maintaining energy efficiency.

Positioning the Hipargero LED Aquarium Light above your reef tank using the included mounting brackets is straightforward. Then, customize the specific wavelengths and intensity and automate the sunrise and sunset functions using the included remote control.

Other Popular Aquarium Lights

In addition to the Current USA Orbit Marine and Hipargero LED Aquarium Lights, several other high-quality aquarium lighting options can benefit coral growth in reef tanks:

Setting Up and Maintaining the Ideal Lighting System

Choosing the Right Light Intensity and Spectrum for Your Corals

The key to maintaining healthy corals in reef tanks is providing the proper light intensity and spectrum. Corals rely on photosynthesis for growth, and coral species require different light intensities and colors for optimal health. As a result, LEDs are popular for reef tank lighting, as they offer a wide range of customizable color spectrums and intensities.

A good starting point is selecting a light with flexible options for white, blue, and red colors, as these are effective for both coral growth and enhancing the visual appeal of your aquarium. Although white light is essential to replicate the sunlight for proper photosynthesis, blue light encourages fluorescence in corals, and red light promotes healthy growth in soft corals and other inhabitants.

It’s essential to consider the Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) and Photosynthetically Usable Radiation (PUR) values when choosing an LED light for your reef tank, as they measure the effectiveness of the light for photosynthesis and coral growth. Look for LED lights with high PAR and PUR values, as they ensure an environment most conducive to coral health.

Adjusting Light Intensity and Duration

Once you have selected an appropriate LED lighting system, adjusting the light intensity and duration becomes crucial for coral well-being. Ideally, corals should receive varied light intensities throughout the day, replicating the natural light conditions in their oceanic habitats.

A programmable controller can help automate this process, allowing you to set light intensities and durations at different times of the day. Most corals benefit from a light cycle that gradually increases in intensity before reaching a peak midday and slowly fades out in the evening.

The optimal light cycle for your corals will depend on their specific needs and the depth of your aquarium. However, as a general guideline, you can follow these light intensities and durations:

  • Soft Corals: 100-200 PAR for 8-10 hours per day
  • LPS (large polyp stony) Corals: 200-350 PAR for 8-10 hours per day
  • SPS (small polyp stony) Corals: 350-450 PAR for 7-9 hours per day

Matching Light Requirements to Coral Species

Different coral species have unique light requirements; understanding these needs is critical to providing the ideal lighting environment for your reef tank’s inhabitants. Consider the following information when setting up your LED lighting system:

  • Soft Corals: Generally found in deeper waters or shaded areas, soft corals prefer lower light intensities and benefit from a blend of white, blue, and red light.
  • LPS Corals: These corals thrive in moderate to high light environments and typically require more intense white and blue light to support their skeletal growth and overall health.
  • SPS Corals: Demanding high light intensities, SPS corals grow in shallow, brightly lit areas and require a concentrated light source to thrive. They typically benefit most from white and blue light.

Additional Factors and Considerations

Aquarium Size and Dimensions

When selecting the best lighting system for corals, it’s essential to consider the size and dimensions of your reef tank. Larger aquariums may require multiple LED lights or more powerful lighting systems to achieve optimal light intensity and coverage for coral growth.

Likewise, consider the tank’s depth and surface area, as deeper tanks may need more powerful lights to penetrate the water column and deliver the necessary light spectrum to support coral growth and health.

Water Parameters and Filtration

Another essential factor in coral growth and health is maintaining ideal water parameters and filtration. Proper filtration helps maintain water clarity and remove excess nutrients, which can inhibit coral growth when ingested by the corals’ zooxanthellae.

PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) is a crucial indicator of light quality for corals, with a range of 200-400 PAR being suitable for most coral growth and coloration. Good water circulation helps distribute the light evenly throughout the tank, ensuring all corals receive adequate light exposure.

Coral Compatibility and Mating

It’s crucial to consider the compatibility of different coral species in your reef tank to ensure they thrive under the lighting system. Research each species’ specific lighting requirements; some prefer more intense light, while others do best in lower light conditions.

Corals like soft corals, LPS (Large Polyp Stony), and SPS (Small Polyp Stony) have different lighting needs, and it’s essential to accommodate these differences when setting up your tank’s lighting system.

When creating a reef aquarium, consider the optimal light spectrum that includes a large amount of blue light, as this color promotes coral health and vibrant colors in the corals. A combination of green, yellow, orange, and red lights may also be beneficial, as a diverse light spectrum can enhance coral growth, color, and overall health.

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