Chaetomorpha is considered the best macro algae for absorbing nutrients for your reef aquarium. To be the most effective and out compete unwanted algae in your display aquarium you’ll need a good light source. Many simply use a cheap fluorescent bulb and think that is going to be enough to out compete the hundreds of dollars spent on a powerful lighting system hanging over their display tank. It’s pretty silly to expect this approach to work but if we don’t stop and think critically about our approach to growing chaeto we can go down one of these paths and waste a lot of time and money. In this review we’ll cover the top 3 options in our opinion based on our research.
The Kessil H380 is our top pick for a cheato grow light for a few reasons. The primary reason is that it is a horticulture LED pendant that will do an insanely good job of growing chaeto while being very easy to mount over your refugium. The biggest downside to this light however is the cost. At well over $300 it isn’t a bargain option but it will perform exceedingly well.
Kessil is unique among LED lighting manufacturers in the hobby. They don’t give you the keys to the kingdom as far as being able to adjust your light spectrum. They set the spectrum to its ideal for the application. For reef display aquariums you can adjust the visual color but the usable spectrum is fixed. On the H380 you can just adjust intensity since this is a light that is purpose built for growing plant life and has no need to be adjustable for color aesthetics. That’s why you get the dramatic purple glow which is ideal for growing chaeto but not at all similar to natural light.
If you want the best chaeto grow light for a refugium we couldn’t recommend a better option than the Kessil H380. Kessil is our favorite aquarium lighting manufacturer for their dense matrix led design and compact form factor as well as their high quality materials and construction. Their H380 grow light is an extremely powerful option and not overkill if you’re serious about your chaeto out competing nuisance algae in your main display aquarium.
At roughly half the price of the Kessil H380 the Sun Blaze 24 T5 Fluorescent fixture is a bargain but comes with some tradeoffs. The most obvious downside is the size of the unit. Depending on your situation this may not even be a practical option. If you do have a larger tank with a large refugium this is a perfectly viable alternative for growing chaetomorpha.
The second concern is that the bulbs supplied with the unit will work as a grow light however they are not ideal. It would be best if you replaced them with Giesemann Super Flora to get the best possible growth spectrum. This adds to the overall cost of purchase, as will the purchasing of replacement bulbs each year.
Aside from these concerns, it is a powerful fixture and will perform admirably as a chaeto grow light over your refugium. If you’re working within a budget and can handle the large size, it’s a great alternative.
Another budget solution for growing chaeto is the Kessil H80. This light is very similar to the Kessil H380, just in a less powerful and more compact form factor. The spectrum of this light is ideal for growing chaeto, just like the H380 but don’t expect it to be able to keep up with the H380. This is a much less powerful lighting solution. It is more ideal for owners of smaller saltwater aquariums. It’s even more compact than the H380 and can fit in almost any refugium scenario, even capable of being mounted over a hang on the back refugium if so desired. If you have a larger tank you’re not going to want to consider this model if you’re serious about growing chaeto as one of your primary nutrient control methods. This light is essentially a budget H380 for small reef tanks. When it comes down to dollar for dollar performance, you’re much better off stepping up to the H380. It financially wouldn’t make sense to purchase multiple H80’s. You’ll get more bang for your buck out of the H380. The one big benefit the H80 has over the H380 however is that it is designed to be fanless which means it runs absolutely silent.
Chaetomorpha is the macroalgae of choice for saltwater aquarium refugiums. There are many other options available but chaeto grows faster than most while staying in a ball. If some finds its way into your display tank you don’t need to worry about it being difficult to remove. It doesn’t adhere to the rock work or corals. It floats in a nice ball that can easily be plucked out of the tank and tossed into the trash or added back to your refugium. I had the unfortunate experience when I was less informed of attempting to use grape caulerpa in my hang on the back refugium. A small bit made its way into my display tank and in no time had worked its way into the rock and began overtaking my display thanks to the power of my display tank light that dwarfed my refugium light. I tried to pick the grape caulerpa out of my display tank rock work but it was useless. I ended up having to pull all the rock out and replaced it with some cured rock from my local fish store. This horror story will never happen with chaetomorpha.
The Kessil H380 is our number one pick for the best light for growing chaetomorpha in your refugium as your primary means of nutrient control in your saltwater aquarium. The powerful light you have hanging over your display tank is your competition. If you don’t have a light source that can go toe to toe with that you will struggle to be able to out compete nuisance algae growing in your display tank. You need to make your refugium the more ideal source of algae growth and the Kessil H380 is the most powerful and cost effective light for the job. Kessil also produces the H1200 which is essentially 4 H380s embedded into one fixture. This is overkill for all but the most insanely large tanks out there. Most large tanks will be happy with one H380, but if your tank is large enough you may want to add another H380 to the mix. If you have money to burn then feel free to step up to the H1200 but expect to have to turn it way down to be appropriately effective.
The Sun Blaze 24 T5 Fluorescent is a great alternative if you can accommodate the massive size. Bear in mind however that over the long run it may end up being just as, if not more expensive than the Kessil H380 when you factor in replacing fluorescent light bulbs over the usable life of the fixture.
The Kessil H80 is an awesome little grow light that is ideal for smaller refugiums on smaller reef aquariums. It’s even great as a light for hang on back refugiums. Its fanless design is a bonus that’s likely appreciated when matched up with more compact reef tanks and noise can be an issue. It isn’t inexpensive for its light output but it is high quality and a good bit less expensive than its big brother, the H380.
All three of these lights are great options for growing chaetomorpha in your refugium. A quality grow light is critical if you expect to out compete the powerful light you have over your display tank. Simply throwing a compact fluorescent bulb over some chaeto and expecting it to compete isn’t realistic. Your chaeto will grow but it likely won’t be the solution to eradicating nuisance algae in your display tank.
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