Saltwater Aquarium Lighting for Beginners

For beginners, saltwater aquarium lighting is one of the most difficult aspects to understand and grasp.  Before we go into saltwater aquariums, let’s go over the basics of how light travels differently in saltwater.

How Does Light Impact Saltwater?

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While light can travel a long distance in the air, it behaves very differently in water.  Light does not penetrate water as easily, even less so for saltwater. In fact, light dissipates much faster in seawater at shorter distances.  This explains why almost all photosynthetic life in the ocean is found within the top 100-150 meters.

When light hits water, the majority of it bends or “refracts,” some of which is then absorbed at the surface and converted to heat.  Any remaining light will then travel to deeper depths. How quickly this light dissipates in saltwater depends on how salty, dirty or clean it is as well as the distance and direction of the light source.

The last notable point is that different wavelengths of light are absorbed at different rates.  Purple and red wavelengths are typically absorbed more quickly at the surface, while blue and green wavelengths travel deeper.  This is why the ocean appears blue or green.

How Does Saltwater Aquarium Lighting Work?

Acclimating Corals to a New Light

With a saltwater aquarium fixture, you have the ability to control the intensity of lighting and make it dimmable to see the impact.  Saltwater aquarists initially begin with lower lighting, then over time they will increase it to see how inhabitants respond. They may also adjust light intensity by lowering or raising the fixture to be closer or further away from the water as well.

In some saltwater aquarium fixtures, you can also modify the wavelengths of light that you are giving to your aquarium.

Fortunately, aquarium lighting has also come a long way over the past 20 years.  With the advancement of modern technology, today’s fixtures are designed to cool bulbs appropriately and won’t take up as much real estate.  Additionally, they are no longer the eyesores of years past either!

How Easy is it to Grow Corals with Saltwater Aquarium Lighting?

Acclimating New Corals to Your Current Lighting

You can grow many types of coral in a saltwater tank with a light fixture.  The time, maintenance and configuration required will ultimately depend on the fixture you’re using as well as the coral.  Just keep in mind it is very important to change fluorescent bulbs regularly. Even if you have a high-quality fixture, your bulbs will eventually run out over time.

If you are dedicating your hobby to the rarest or fussiest of corals, it would be useful to buy or rent a light meter.  This will allow you to measure PAR, photosynthetically active radiation, and determine the right amount of light for your aquarium inhabitants.  If you want to grow small polyp or large polyp stony corals, excellent lighting is a necessity.

What Does ATI North America Offer?

ATI North America has several great lighting fixture options for saltwater aquariums. Our models include features such as controllable lighting through WIFI as well as dimmable options. For more information about our different fixture models, please click here.  We also provide a convenient store locator on our website to help you find a location near you.

ATI North America is a leader in equipment for the saltwater aquarium. If you have any questions about this article or any of our products, ATI North America can be reached at (303) 459-2119 or you can email us at

Interested in buying our products? Check out our store locator on our website. If you are interested in becoming a dealer for our products, please contact us through our dealer inquiry page.

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