Setting up a saltwater reef aquarium can be an exciting endeavor, but one of the most challenging aspects for beginners is choosing the right lighting. With numerous options available, it can be seemingly overwhelming but to make the right choice, all you need to do is narrow down your options and mimic the success of those that came before you. 

  1. Mounting: Start by considering the mounting options for the lights. As a beginner, you would likely prefer a light fixture that can be easily mounted directly to the tank. This eliminates lights that can only be mounted to the ceiling, simplifying your options.

  2. Visualize Your Tank's Future: Envision how you want your tank to look in the future. If you prefer a fish-only tank, factors like PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation), spectrum, and light spread might not be as crucial. However, if you plan to have live corals, choosing a light specifically optimized for coral growth becomes essential.

  3. Research The Options: For our example, we have selected three Aqua Illumination (AI) Blades - x1 Blade Glow and x2 Blade Grow. The decision was based on their ability to provide complete coverage, minimize shadowing, and optimize coral growth. This is just one example of a great beginner light and there are numerous lights available to suit different designs and budgets, so explore your options. The Aqua Illumination Prime, AquaMaxx Prism, and Reef Breeders Photon are also great choices. 

  4. Install Up the Lights: Installing LED lights is a straightforward process when mounting directly to the tank. For our chosen AI Blades, simply slide the tank rests into place and position them on top of the aquarium. Use appropriate brackets and control boards to organize the wires neatly. Connect all three lights together using an extension cord and plug them into a single outlet. Place the Blade Glow light in the middle and the two Blade Grow lights in the front and rear of the aquarium.

  5. Light Control: You can control the Blade LED lights either through the AI or Mobius app which come with Spectrum and photoperiod templates.  Choose the "Grow with Glow" template and activate it at a 20% intensity for the grow lights. Then, select the "Glow with Grow" template and activate it at the same intensity as the Blade Glow. The preset schedule provides a gradual ramp-up in the morning, full power for five hours, a gradual ramp-down, and a sunset cycle before lights off. The key here is to follow the instruction from the manufacturer or mimic the success of those that came before you when it comes to spectrum and photoperiod settings.  

  6. Finding the Right Intensity: Proper lighting intensity is crucial when it comes to supporting coral or plant growth. Use a PAR meter to measure the intensity throughout the tank at the 20% preset intensity. Aim for PAR readings between 20 and 60, which are suitable for fish and soft corals. If you plan to stony corals such as LPS or SPS down the road, you can always increase the intensity when that time comes.  Once you have everything set, leave it alone and don't adjust it.  The key to success is stability and giving your coral time to adapt to the conditions in your tank.  Constant adjustments will only cause more stress upon tank inhabitants. 

Choosing and setting up the right lighting for your saltwater reef aquarium doesn't have to be a daunting task. By considering mounting options, envisioning your tank's future, and selecting suitable lights, you can create an optimal environment for your corals. Remember to follow the recommended light control settings and monitor the intensity to ensure the health and growth of your aquarium inhabitants.