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What is the proper lighting system for my aquarium?

To answer the above question, first ask yourself: What aquatic lives do I want in my aquarium?

If you will keep:

1). Freshwater fish only - you need just a normal fluorescent light, no more than 2 watts per gallon. To bring up colors of your fish, you may use a red enhancer bulb or blue actinic bulb, in addition to a 10,000K white bulb.

2). Freshwater live plants mainly -  You need 2 to 3 watt per gallon, bulb Kelvin rating ranges between 7,500K to 10,000K. If your tank is deeper than 28" and your plants are dense, add one more watt per gallon. Multiple fluorescent bulbs, power compact fluorescent, HO, or VHO fluorescent can be used. You can also use metal halide.

3). Saltwater fish only - you need about 2 watts per gallon. A normal fluorescent lighting fixture, or a power compact fluorescent fixture, in the 7,500K to 10,000K range, is usually enough. If you keep algae-consuming animals (blenny/snail/sea star/urchin etc.) and your tank is deeper than 28", you can add additional 1 watt per gallon and next higher Kelvin (K) level. 

4). Saltwater fish with corals that demand moderate-light (such species generally are of soft corals, like some mushrooms and finger corals) - 3 to 4 watts per gallon from power compacts, or metal halide system, Kelvin rating to be in the 10,000K to 14,000K range. If your tank is deeper than 28", you can add additional 1 watt per gallon and next higher "K" level, and use metal halide system. An supplement actinic blue moon light that is on for night time is beneficial.

5). Saltwater reef inhabitants consisting corals that require intense light (such species are usually colorful stony, hard corals. Most aquarium anemones and clams are also high-light demanding) - An aquarium containing such animals is also called a "true reef tank". You need between 4 to 8 watts per gallon and 10,000K to 20,000K to achieve the intensity and photosynthetic radiation to benefit these marine creatures. Metal halide system is the best choice. An supplement actinic blue light that is on for night time is highly recommended. 

More topics on: magnetic ballast vs. electronic ballast, and Metal halide vs. LED

View reference: Lighting Choose Chart

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