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What Aquarium Lighting Should I Use?
Seahorses do not have any special lighting requirements other than the fact that most species prefer low to moderate light levels rather than bright light. Because of this, lighting is another area most seahorse keepers neglect to the detriment of their herd. I believe it is important for hobbyists to provide their seahorses with a natural day/night period that includes twilight periods at "sunrise" and "sunset."
To accomplish this, I like the power compact (PC) light fixtures that include two tubes -- one actinic and one daylight fluorescent -- with dual ballasts so that each ballast can be placed on a separate automatic timer. I like to have the bluish actinic come on before the daylight tubes and stay on after the daylights go off, thereby providing a simulated dusk and dawn. This is important for seahorses since they conduct most of their courting and breeding in the early morning hours under twilight conditions. It's a neat effect and fish and invertebrates can then anticipate "lights out" rather than being plunged into total darkness at night or suddenly thrust into bright light in the morning. I also adjust the timers to lengthen or shorten the daylight periods in accordance with the changing seasons. (All my thanks to Jennifer Myerscough for recommending this lighting system to me - it's working out splendidly!) I find that maintaining a natural cycle this way aids reproduction.
In short, I find PC lighting to be a good compromise for a SHOWLR system. Power compacts provide plenty of light for macroalgae or the seahorse-safe soft corals in a modified reef system without being too bright, and the dual ballast system allows for a natural day/night rhythm that changes with the seasons. The resulting dusk and dawn facilitate courtship and help the seahorses maintain a natural reproductive cycle.