Mr. Saltwater Tank

Terrible Advice Tuesdays: New(er) School Reef Tank Lighting Won’t Get the Job Done

Terrible Advice Tuesdays: Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) won’t grow corals.

The rest of the story: I can’t believe I’m still hearing this idea passed around especially considering mounting evidence of LEDs successfully growing coral. From a scientific standpoint, here’s one experiment that showed that LEDs are a viable choice for growing corals – even in aquaculture facilities where fast growth growth is the goal.

From a user perspective, I’ve got several clients and countless followers growing corals (even hard corals) under several different name-brand and D.I.Y. LED fixtures. Since 2011, I’ve had only LED fixtures over my tanks with good results.

Of course, any topic, if you go looking hard enough for the evidence you are after – in this case corals not growing under LEDs- you’ll find it. Remember that the outliers on a bell curve are just that – outliers. They should not be used to make a decision where there is plenty of contradictory data.

Are LEDs still a relatively new lighting type for saltwater tank? Absolutely. There is still lots to learn about LEDs and their application in saltwater tanks. (For you Virtual Tank Build Program participants, one whole session of the program will be spent discussing LEDs as well as other viable types of lighting)

LEDs are a suitable option for lighting your saltwater tank and the future is only looking brighter for them. Don’t let the few people who have had bad experiences cloud your vision.


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Comments for this article (17)

  • George says:

    I built an LED light fixture using CREE royal blue and white LEDs. I’ve had this fixture in service for over 2 years. My corals are thriving. Best of all the heat from this fixture is negligible and I don’t see the cost of running the lights show up on my electric bill. To me this is the only lighting solution to put over a tank containing corals.

  • Mike says:

    I have only run LEDs on my tanks since I started this hobby and experienced great nothing but excellent growth. Every story I have ever read where someone switched from halides to LEDs and had terrible results were typically because they thought they needed 5 fixtures on their maxed settings, thus nuking their tank. I have two hydras on my dsa 105 and everything is doing great.

    Just like any change, do it slowly and acclimate your tank to the change.

  • Andreas says:

    I was in a thread on Nano Reef where someone was sharing an article about a GIGANTIC Acan (I think) colony found off the coast of Japan or something.

    Further down the thread people started talking (jokingly) about the light used to get it to this size.

    Then one bright spark commented ‘you can’t grow coral with LED’s’…


    He later added ‘a guy at my LFS told me you need MH to grow coral’.

    Aaaaaand then he got destroyed.

  • “Aaaaaand then he got destroyed.” That’s funny Andreas!

  • Jeff Padgett says:

    I have been using Chinese LED Multichip from Amazon or Ebay for about 2 years. I have a 100 Watt and 50 Watt chips with different time setting. My corals grow wonderfully. I can notice a difference in growth weekly it seems. These LEDS are inexpensive and are very very bright

  • Stuart Davis says:

    I’ve got to say that I love these. From what I’ve seen in this hobby they offer the most customization and the greatest colors. While they might be the only lighting system I have ever used in this hobby, I still recommend it to my friends.

  • George Barsi says:

    What does everyone think about the LED T5 Combo fixtures?
    Does it make sense to use T5s to add fill (spectrum and light)?

  • Aaron says:

    I’ve had my tank up for two about a year and a half now. I was having frustrating times. After talking to several people at Local fish stores, I turned my dyi Internet led kit down by about 50% from what I thought I needed. Now everything is thriving.

    Love the people at nano-reef. They will destroy comments that hold no merrit.

  • seeve says:

    we get a lot of LED light strips in the UK from China and a lot of them dont give out enough light to read a book by. This is probably what gets them a bad reputation

  • Andreas says:

    I found that thread I mentioned:

    Link if anyone’s interested.

  • mark says:

    led lights are like that internet thing. its just a fad
    and it will pass like all fads do

  • jasonandsarah says:

    Led w/T5’s is a great option especially if you just want to fill in some shadowing on the undersides of your overgrown Sps colonies that were grown under Leds and Leds only! Lol
    I’m currently running 2 Gen 3 pro’s with 2 54w T5’s (Ati coral plus and purple plus) with great growth in a Sps dominant tank.

  • Marc says:

    At this point I only hear that advice from two groups: the manufacturers/sellers of non-LED lighting, and peole that have invested momey in to non-LED lighting within the last few years. I’ve got 7 coral shops within reasonable driving distance and all but one has converted over to LEDs.

    Dont get me wrong…out of the 6 that have gone to LEDs, theres’a at least 6 different opinions of WHICH LEDs to purchase, but, imo, the argument for/against LEDs as the preferred technology going forward is pretty much decided.

    Full disclosure: I’ve got a first-generation Corallife LED that is currently over my 20g cube coral side tank and its growing hard coral. If that thing can do it, new generation LEDs shouldn’t be a question.

  • Randy says:

    I am running 2 Kissel A160WE on a 75gal (36w x 24d x 20h).
    My corals are doing great and the shimmer is very close the snorkeling I was doing last month.

  • Roger says:

    They aren’t cheap but I absolutely love my Kessil’s. I get the shimmer and and shadows that make everything look more natural and my coral seem to like them. With my Apex they do the sunrise and sunset which I don’t see happening with T5’s or MH.

  • Pierre Bouic says:

    A benefit not talked about much with Light Emitting Diodes is that with much less heat as compared to the traditional Metal Halides being transmitted to the water I’ve experienced less of a power bill for two reasons, less chiller use and less wattage needed to grow coral.
    This makes me feel more inclined to introduce some added lighting such as a few T5 fixtures to bring some extra pop out. Living down under with high electricity prices and high summer temps of well of 100deg F or for us using metric, over 40deg C for 15, 20 days a year, and more than 40 days above 86deg F or 30deg C.
    That’s a lot of numbers but the best one is my bill for power has reduced by close to $100 per quarter, all because of my switch to LED’s.

  • Mitch says:

    It’s not that LEDs can’t grow corals, it’s just that I’ve found from using several types of lighting – that they don’t grow AS WELL as they do under either Metal Halides or T5.

    I started 20 years ago using compact fluorescents. I switched to metal halides with VHO and then to T5 and then LEDs (Radions).

    In my experience, the lighting that worked the best was Metal Halides. My SPS growth was by far the best, my colors were the most natural and the shimmer effect I got was the best I’ve ever seen.

    In addition – I found I did not save much in electricity when I used LEDs. My heater ran constantly trying to keep my tank temperature right – and that was with a sufficient size heater.

    To each his own – LEDs do grow corals but do not grow them nearly as well as either T5 or Metal Halide.

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