Planted refugia are used to cultivate macroalgae. And that’s about the only thing that has stayed the same over the years. As time goes on and the saltwater aquarium hobby becomes more and more sophisticated, these set-ups are becoming increasingly complicated, specialized, and technologically advanced. They are designated for many different types of uses (nutrient sequestration, culturing live food for herbivores, promoting pod production, display, enjoyment, etc.). And, they may be constructed to grow a particular type or even species of seaweed. As a consequence, some of the best lighting manufacturers in the industry have upped their ‘fuge game to offer units specially designed for refugium applications.
Here, we discuss the special lighting needs of the modern refugium and take a look at a few of the refugium-ready models that are currently in the market.
What you want?
The very first consideration for refugium lighting, especially nowadays, is whether you intend to grow macros primarily for ornamental or for utilitarian purposes. If the set-up is for display, then full-spectrum lighting is most appropriate. If you don’t care so much about a pleasant, natural appearance, then a yield-maximizing “grow light” (exclusively utilizing blue and red diodes) is your best choice.
You also want to acquire a light that is best suited to the sort of crop you intend to grow. For example, if you want fast-growing chlorophytes (i.e. green algae) such as sea lettuce or chaeto, you must get a very powerful unit. However, if you plan on keeping slower-growing rhodophytes (i.e. red algae) such as ogo, which are adapted to deeper (that is, bluer) waters, then you can settle for a bit less intensity (and something with more “actinic” character will be best). There are some exceptions; the ornamental rhodophyte Hypnea, for example, requires bright, full-spectrum illumination. For “in-between” genera such as Halymenia, you might splurge on a unit with more spectrum control as to find what works best for you.
You also need to consider the refugium’s shape and the physical environment where it is located. If it is long and skinny, a strip light style will be most efficient; a spotlight of course is preferable for squarish or round refugia. Mounting options, while not something you’ll necessarily think about much in the beginning, might seem far more important when you’re actually trying to secure the unit safely to the tank in an ideal orientation. If the tank is deep, or if you must mount the light fixture well above the water surface, then you need to use an extra powerful light to compensate for the loss.
Will you be running your ‘fuge in a completely enclosed space (e.g. within an aquarium cabinet)? Then you had better look into the heat output of each prospective unit as well! Remember those refugium lighting models that feature good cooling systems are awesome as they increase efficiency and probably extend the life of the diodes; however, without good air circulation in the general area, they’ll simply bath in most of the heat that they release. So yeah, you’ll likely benefit from auxiliary fans that move air away from the tank, but additional fans built into the unit itself do much to get that unwanted heat away from the light in particular and the aquarium system in general.
For as many good lights as there are in the market, it still can be difficult to find one that perfectly suits your refugium needs. You generally will therefore have to weigh out the various pros and cons of each model. But the handful featured below represents pretty much all the basic types you might encounter.
The Innovative Marine ChaetoMax refugium light is a great example of a unit for the “old” fashioned small ‘fuge tucked in the aquarium stand. As its name suggests, it is designed to grow green macros for nutrient removal. Thus, its red-and-blue-only diodes (400-470 nm and 620-680 nm) are ready for no-nonsense cultivation. This light somehow squeezes in 45 high-efficiency diodes for an impressive output for its size. It can cast bright light on your macros even in small or awkward spaces. Compact and sleek, its shape is a great fit for the cramped confines of an aquarium cabinet. It mounts either horizontally or vertically. It has a sturdy aluminum construction and generates minimal heat.
The AquaIllumination Fuge Light is also designed specially to promote plant growth (though it’s slightly more versatile) and is appropriate in almost any refugium application. Also like the above, this chlorophyte-specialized fixture delivers high-intensity lighting with an emphasis on the red spectra for rapid green macro growth. The range of LED colors includes Cool White (CREE XP-G2) x 2, Photo Red (CREE XP-E) x 6, Red (CREE XP-E2) x 4 and UV (Liteon 430nm) x 2. Unlike the above, its diodes are clustered in a ring to function like a spotlight. It is rather controllable, as you can connect it through bluetooth with an Apple or Android smartphone; the “myAI” App is used to adjust the spectrum and set its built-in timer.
The Kessil H380 Spectral Halo II high-intensity refugium light generates powerful, full-spectrum lighting. This model is for big (especially deep) refugia with dense macroalgal crops. Its Dense Matrix LED™ technology produces a tight beam that penetrates the bottom of the grow space. On the other hand, its naturalistic illumination is pleasing to the eye and is suitable for planted display tank applications. Its spectral output is switchable, which allows for customization of light conditions for different types of macro!