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Marineland Aquatic Plant LED Lighting System Review

Stephen G. Noble reviews Marineland's 24-36 inch model with Integrated Digital Timer for aquatic plants.

By Stephen G. Noble |

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I must admit, after 40-years of growing aquatic plants, and using every bulb/fixture combination available to the consumer, I have grown skeptical when another ‘magic’ light enters the market. Manufacturers are constantly researching ways to replicate natural sunlight. In the process of doing this, they must overcome many obstacles such as delivering a product that is affordable and compact and aesthetically pleasing for use by the average hobbyist.  Additionally, with energy consumption at or near the top of purchase decisions, many manufacturers are shifting toward LED lighting. Until the past few years, LED lighting was effective for select applications such as reef tanks but it lacked the correct light energy for photosynthesis of aquatic plants. Thankfully, LED technology has advanced to the point where it is now possible to outfit aquatic lighting with white, red, blue and green LED's. 

Enter the Marineland Aquatic Plant LED lighting system. When asked to review this product, strangely, I couldn't think of any local pet shop stocking the item but have seen them in catalogs for a few years so my curiosity was piqued.  The mystery was partially solved upon opening the postal shipping container. The light was packaged in a stylish box but the printing and artwork fall way short of describing the jewel contained within. The marketing department needs to boldly identify this item as an aquatic plant light.  Lots of greenery and plant artwork would attract attention. I can see how this light might easily be overlooked on a crowded pet store shelf. Regardless of my opinion about marketing the product, I do have an issue with the PAR, LUX and dimension chart printed on one end of the box. For some reason, Marineland uses the term ‘depth’ for the width of an aquarium. It is industry standard to use the terms Length, Width and Height to describe aquarium dimensions. Additionally, the graph indicates Depth on one axis and Distance on the other yet; the narrative only discusses Depth and Width. Distance is never described. This could be very confusing for a potential customer. The bottom of the box has a needlessly huge picture of the light with three features but why not use this space to describe the meaning of PAR, LUX and their applicability to aquatic plant keeping? After all, intermediate and advanced aquatic gardeners know (or should know) this information but it is the beginner who needs to see that this light is very capable of greatly enhancing their success. In summary, this is a great light with an identity crisis.

In full disclosure and to the credit of FishChannel.com and Marineland, I was provided with an ‘off the shelf’ unit not a manufacturer’s specially prepared sample. All of the specifications are readily available online here.  Rather than restate the specifications, I will just highlight various features that make this lighting system so effective.

Marineland Aquatic Plant LED light day 1
Marineland Aquatic Plant LED light day 1. Photo by Stephen G. Noble

I decided to evaluate the Marineland Aquatic Plant LED lighting system using a low-tech aquarium with common plants that an average hobbyist would likely purchase. The primary goal of this review was to not only evaluate the lighting system but to make sure the results can be replicated by virtually anyone. I chose to use my 37-gallon holding tank affectionately known as the 'jungle.' The lighting prior to this evaluation was an old compact fluorescent and hybrid LED system. The LED was actually adapted from a reef tank. Both of these lights were removed and only the Marineland Plant LED system was used during this product review. The 37-gallon tank is primarily used for temporarily holding off-shoots removed from my planted display aquariums. Water sprite and duckweed partially cover the surface. These plants are primarily used as food for my turtles and goldfish but also shade the tank from the powerful reef LED.  In summary, this is definitely not a manicured, high tech, planted tank! The tank is well seasoned having been in use for more than six years.  A rich layer of mulm is visible in the original substrate. (See photo) The tank's dimensions are approximately, 30" in length, 12" in width (Marineland’s depth measurement) and 22" high. Given Marineland's recommendations, its 24-36 inch light is perfectly sized for the aquarium.

Marineland Aquatic Plant LED light day 1
Day 7. New frond extending from Water sprite on extreme right (bottom) of plant . Photo by Stephen G. Noble

Prior to the evaluation, I removed any finicky, difficult to grow plants and replaced them with the following easy-to-grow species:
Echinodorus (Amazon Swords) including bleheri, 'Tanzende Feuerfeder' (hybrid) and 'Frans Stoffels' (hybrid).
Vallisneria americana
Aponogeton ulvaceus
Ceratophyllum demersum (Hornwort)
Microsorum pteropus (Java fern) these plants self-rooted themselves in the substrate and are not attached to any object.
Taxiphyllum barbieri (Java moss)
Ceratopteris (Water sprite)

Water movement is provided by a 150 gallon per hour external power filter and a 120 gallon per hour internal power head outfitted with a sponge. The tank temperature is 74-degrees. 

The tanks inhabitants include neon tetras, white clouds, various danios and two very old otocinclus.

The evaluation was conducted during a four-week period. Plant fertilization consisted of locally purchased liquid aquatic plant fertilizer, fish waste and a rich substrate. The manufacturer of the liquid fertilization recommended a weekly mega dosage but I chose to divide the recommended weekly dosage and administer it every other day. About 10 gallons of water were replaced during weekly partial water exchanges. 

Setting up the lighting system was simple. The only rule the manufacturer insists upon is the light must sit on a glass cover. For those of us who like open top tanks this is somewhat of an inconvenience. But given the delightfully low profile of this light, it is a worthy trade-off. The first thing I noticed when opening the box was the wonderfully long power chord. Being over 11-feet long, I was able to plug the unit directly into a wall socket.  It is very nice to not need extension cords or power strips. The system comes with an internal clock and timer. Normally, I growl when trying to program digital timers but not so with this one. This timer was clearly designed by someone who actually uses the item.  In fact, Marineland even set the timer for a preprogrammed on/off cycle which is ideal for aquatic plants. Changes to the timer are ridiculously easy but I chose to use the preprogrammed setting. Most convenient is a power loss default feature where upon restoration of power, the timer defaults to 3:00 p.m. and none of the on/off settings are lost!  Adjusting the clock to the correct time is simple.  I have noticed that brief power interruptions (on/off flashes during a storm) don’t place the unit into default status.  This is the only timer in the house that isn’t flashing that annoying, ‘12:00 time to reset me’ after a quick power interruption.  

The light produces a lot of heat and is not equipped with a fan. But a very effective heat sink directs most of the heat up and away from the system. Nevertheless, as with any light, some heat does reach the glass. I suppose it could possibly raise the water temperature a degree or so if your aquarium is located in a really warm room say, during the summer months. I really don't see the excess heat as a problem and actually appreciate not having a noisy fan that must be periodically cleaned. For obvious reasons, Marineland warns owners not to enclose the unit in an aquarium top cabinet.  My water temperature was not affected by the heat probably because my basement fish room ambient temperature is about 69-70 degrees year round.  For comparison, I took temperature readings of two other tank lights and found the following:

  • T-5 (twin tube): Top of fixture, 100°(Fahrenheit)
            Temperature of aquarium glass 85°(F)
            Distance between fixture and aquarium glass, 2 inches.
  • T-12 (twin tube): Top of fixture, 80°(F)
              Temperature of aquarium glass 89° (F)
             Distance between fixture and aquarium glass, ¼ inch
  • Marineland Plant LED: Top of fixture 115°(F)
                          Temperature of aquarium glass 88°(F)
                          Distance between fixture and aquarium glass, ½ inch

It is pretty amazing that such a warm fixture, so closely positioned to the aquarium would warm the glass to a temperature comparable to the other lighting systems. 

I initially was concerned about using a 24-inch light on a 30-inch aquarium. Would the extreme edges of the tank be sufficiently illuminated?  Absolutely. This light provides blindingly bright illumination.  However, the midsection of the tank is definitely brighter than the extremities. The light easily penetrates the 22-inch height of the tank and powerfully illuminates the substrate below. Unless you are growing a species of plant requiring extremely intense lighting, it provides more than enough illumination.  In fact, you might need surface plants to partly shade the tank if algae becomes a problem. 

One very nice feature is once the light is positioned on the tank, it can be shifted left or right. This is really handy especially if used on a tank with a center brace. The light can be moved slightly one way or the other to uncover lights blocked by the brace. Another advantage of an easily shifted light is the ability to flood one side of the tank with light and shade the other side. In my case where the left side of the tank is a mass of low light Java Moss and Java fern, I simply moved the light to the right and flooded the higher light plants. I really like this feature. 

How well does it grow plants?  In short, spectacularly. If anything, Marineland understates the performance capabilities of this light. It works better than any other light I currently use including T-5, T-8, compact fluorescent and LED.  Water sprite explodes with growth under this light. Two fronds sprouted each growing nearly one-foot in length.  All but three of the Amazon Swords displayed steady growth averaging about eight inches of height and adding at least two leaves during the evaluation. Only the three E. Tanzende Feurerfeder hybrids (foreground and extreme left and right) were stunted due to shading by taller plants. The Vallisneria steadily grew at what I consider to be a normal rate. One plant I am watching is the Aponogeton. It displays greener leaves rather than the green/brown and growth has increased.  Leaves are wider and it appears that it is about to flower which is strangely out of sync from its normal cycle. Clearly, this light has stimulated the plant. Java fern is such a slow grower that I only noticed slight enlargement of the leaves.  This is particularly noticeable for the specimens planted on the far right side of the tank. Java moss grows rapidly under this lighting. So much so that I had to constantly prune it to prevent it from overtaking the tank. During the rapid growth, it interestingly weaved runners all over the gravel creating a decorative ground cover. 

Only the front glass was cleaned of algae during this evaluation. But in reality, very little algae grew. A thin film of algae can be seen on the right side of the tank but the back is virtually clear of algae. The lack of heavy algae growth is one piece of evidence of rapid plant growth.

The Marineland Aquatic Plant LED Lighting System does what it is designed to do and does it very well.  Had I known how good it is, I probably would have purchased one long ago. 

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Marineland Aquatic Plant LED Lighting System Review

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Reader Comments

Roy    Miami, FL

10/27/2013 6:08:08 PM

Great product review! It sure makes you feel comfortable about purchasing this system. LED technology was quickly incorporated into the aquarium hobby, much faster than for the general public due to their directed light which makes it easy to illuminate your tank below, but this same quality has made it harder to compete with incandescent and fluorescent lighting which create an all arounf (not directed) illumination therefore effectively illuminating a room. This technology however seemed to move too quickly in the aquarium hobby and has been proven unreliable and testy at best until now which is what this article supports.

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