One of the most important aspects of freshwater and saltwater aquaria is the lighting it receives. If you have live plants (freshwater) or corals (saltwater), you need specific lighting to make sure they grow. However, providing too much light can lead to an algae problem. In addition, your lighting methods need to be consistant – you cannot rely on the sun nor you cannot rely on yourself to get it consistant. All aquaria require a timer for optimal plant and fish health.
Get The Correct Lighting Fixture
If you bought one of those aquarium “starter kits”, chances are you are running incandescent lights. Incandescent lighting gives off mostly heat and only 10% of the light emitted can be used by most aquatic plants. The other 90% of light along with the heat being given off simply grows algae. If your tank has incandescent lighting, I would suggest going to Walmart, Lowes, or Home Depot and picking up some compact fluorescent lights. Make sure that they are compatible with your fixture in terms of wattage and size and screw them in to replace the incandescent bulbs.
If you have a larger aquarium, you probably are running T12 or T8 fluorescent lighting. This lighting type is adequate for most freshwater systems, but too much or too little of it could be a problem.
Get a Timer
Now that you have the correct lighting fixture, you need a timer. For freshwater systems, I suggest running the lights for 5-6 hours for a fish only tank and 10-11 hours for a tank with live plants. I use a mechanical timer made by Marineland that I picked up on Amazon.com for about $8. I have a planted tank and run the lights from 6:00 AM to 11:00 AM (5 hours) and 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM (5 hours) for a total of 10 hours. I always recommend that the lights go on in the morning, take a break during the day, and turn on again at night. This will help the light cool down between uses and also get the fish accustomed to their feeding times. If you have a fish only tank, I would suggest running the lights for 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours at night.
Do Not Allow The Tank To Get Direct Sunlight
One common reason that algae grows is supplying too much light to the aquarium. If you have your fluorescent lighting running 10 hours a day plus the sun is beating in on the tank 5 hours a day, you are bound to get algae. I always suggest placing aquariums adjacent to windows or on a different wall. Never place an aquarium directly in front of or facing a window thinking that it will help the plants grow. Sunlight is good for some plants, but it mostly only helps algae. In addition, the sun is completely unpredictable. I live in Florida and some days the sky is completely dark and there is absolutely no sun while some days the sun is so blinding it’s hard to even walk outside without sunglasses.