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Aquarium lovers all know the joy of keeping a tank stocked full of all your favorite creatures. Those tank owners with aquatic turtles, though, know that there's an extra level of challenge when it comes to giving these friendly reptiles a good home. You've got to make sure that tank is big, you've got to change the water frequently, you have to keep the water moving around, clean up waste, monitor chemical levels, and you need a good canister filter to get all of that accomplished.
Marineland C-530 Canister Filter
Aquatop CF500 Canister Filter
Eheim Professional 3
Penn Plax Cascade 1500
While it might be tempting just to grab the first filter you see on a web search, you have to keep certain factors in mind when searching for the best canister for turtle tanks. Turtles are a bit different than fish (being reptiles) and as such have different requirements for their care.
Both are aquatic and closely related on the tree of life, so you could actually find a lot that is similar between the two. They are both cold-blooded creatures, they both hunt for their food in their natural habitats, and they both lay eggs to reproduce. Where then is the difference that necessitates a slightly different approach when it comes to turtle care? More often than not, the aquatic turtles that you get for your tank will be larger. They will produce much more waste material and other byproducts that you need to clean to keep their habitat healthy (there are some handy fact sheets around the web if you're looking for detailed information on caring for these awesome pets).
This means that you have to buy a larger tank (they'll need more room to move). You'll need to deck that tank out with plants, some "worker fish" that will aid water quality but not fall prey to your turtles, and plenty of extras that will keep the water clean, primarily the canister filter.
The general rule is this: the more powerful the filter is, the better it will be for your turtles. There is some nuance to this, of course, but consider that your turtles are likely big, and they are always cycling their own waste into the water.
Also, you probably have other things in your tank aside from just the turtles (plants, small fish, etc.) This is all contained in a large tank that holds at the minimum 50 gallons of water (even more if you have multiple turtles).
That water can become stagnant if it is not moved around, which is a surefire way to decrease the quality of the water. Circulating the water helps to evenly distribute oxygen and good bacteria around the tank, discourage the growth of harmful bacteria, keep water temperature regular, and slow down algae growth.
To make a long story short, a weak filter is not going to be able to handle the sheer volume of water you have and provide all of those essential benefits, so if you've got turtles in your tank, you have to go big.
With smaller water-dwelling creatures, you can sometimes get away with a slightly underpowered filter to save yourself on money or to avoid having to carry the thing around. With turtles though this option is foolhardy. Power is a non-negotiable component of a turtle tank filter.
There are other factors you'll need to have aside from pumping power, though. A powerful filter will do you no good if it can't hold enough of the right type of filter media. You need to make sure that whatever filter you decide to go with has a large central chamber or multiple large trays to accommodate a lot of filtration.
You'll also need to make sure that you can customize which kinds of media you use in the filter, as your turtles will need a very particular water chemistry to stay healthy, and you have to be able to fine tune your parameters to achieve those levels.
The best filters allow you set your own amounts of mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, and don't keep you locked into specific levels. Furthermore, if water is making it past the filter media, then having the filter is pointless. Any filter you get for your turtles has to have no-bypass features to ensure the water is being cleaned.
Turtles have additional needs that, when met, can help them live a happier and healthier life. Some of these needs can be met by extra features contained on particular canister filters, so when making your decision, factor in whether or not the filter comes with a UV filter, and a spray bar.
The UV filter will further limit the growth of algae, and help purify the water in the tank. A spray bar can assist with aerating the water in the tank, making sure that your turtles have ready access to oxygen, and aren't besieged by harmful bacteria attempting to take hold of their environment.
When looking for a tank, some personal preferences and circumstances will factor into your choice too. Your budget, how much space you have for an external filter, your proficiency level in using filters, and the amount of patience you have for lengthy cleaning processes will all play a role in what you ultimately decide. Remember to keep all of this in mind when looking at different canister filters.
This is the most powerful of long-time tank filter manufacturer Marineland's "C series" line. This filter can handle tanks between 100 and 150 gallons, with a max flow rate of 530GPH. The unit measures 18.25" x 13.5" x 21.5", placing it securely in the larger size bracket. Marineland hails this model as "high performance" and "easy to use". They even included a handy DVD instruction guide to help newcomers to the canister filter world set the C-530 up for the first time.
The C-530 includes many of the cherished filter qualities that a turtle tank owner would want, including a 3-stage filtration which takes place in large “stack-n-flo” filter trays. The design is one of the many “no-bypass” varieties, which ensures that water makes it through each stage of filtration and is exceptionally clean by the end.
This unit accepts a wide range of filter media and comes packaged with some of Marineland's own design, including Bio-Filter balls for biological filtration and promotion of beneficial bacteria, carbon filter bags for chemical cleaning of the water, and various filter foams and floss pads for mechanical filtration of the water as well.
The quick prime button and quick release valve allow users to start this filter up quickly, and shut down water flow as soon as the hoses are disengaged (which reduces instances of spillage). This filter assembles and disassembles quickly, making it an excellent choice for those who don't want to spend an eternity cleaning up.
This is Aquatop's biggest filter, a generously sized 4-1 filter that not only incorporates chemical, biological, and mechanical filtration, but a powerful UV sterilizer as well. It is suitable for tanks up to 175 gallons and has a maximum flow rate of 525 gph. This filter measures 18" x 12" x 11", making it good-sized, but not a behemoth like some other power canister filters out there. At 16 pounds, its weight is significant, but not too much for most tank owners to handle.
Filtration is dealt with in the CF500's four stacked media trays, which slowly force water in from the bottom up, then redistribute it back into your tank. The water also passes by the filter's 9-watt UV sterilizer, which further removes impurities.
The CF500 comes equipped with some important media: white fine filter pads & blue filter sponges but other forms of filtration must be purchased separately. The filter is compatible with activated carbon, ceramic rings, and bio-balls, all which AquaTop markets as well.
This filter also has a priming pump feature (no more manual siphoning), and easy-connect hoses to help out the newcomers. Not a bad choice if you're looking for a solid turtle tank filter.
The Professional series filters pack more punch than Eheim's well known "Classic" canister filters. This model can handle tanks up to 320 gallons, with a flow rate of 450 gph. It's a large filter, with a total size of 12.5" x 12.5" x 20.5". The total media capacity is also significant, at 3.5 gallons total. This filter's adjustable flow control allows you to get the perfect level of circulation in your tank, and evenly distribute water and oxygen.
Filtration takes place in the large centrally located tanks, which include a coarse and fine foam pad, and Eheim's branded Ehfisubstrat Pro and Ehfimech media. Media can be customized however if you prefer a different setup. The filter basket breakdown works out to .5 gallon mechanical, 2 gallons biological, and 1-gallon chemical.
The Eheim Professional 3 includes a safety adapter/hose guard, to prevent accidental filtration and eliminate instances of leaks and spillage when trying to clean the unit. It also keeps water from coming out of the filter when attempting to move it, meaning no messes on the way to the sink for cleaning. The Closing clips included on this filter help maintain a sealed environment during filtration, and ensure the filter is functioning properly during regular use.
Filstar's extra large heavy duty XP filter, designed with some high-performance and convenience features. The XP-XL is suitable for tanks up to 265 gallons and has a max flow rate of 450 gph. It measures 9.5" x 8.5" x 17", making it more compact than other models on the market. Combined with a light weight of 13.2 pounds, you've got a filter that's easy to store and move.
The XP-XL's main features are its bypass free construction and four large media baskets. The four basket design accommodates the use of additional biological filtration media for a superior level of bacterial growth and removal of ammonia from your tank water. The starter kit includes coarse and fine filter foams, a microfiltration pad, and Bio-Chem Zorb filtration pouches for the removal of organic waste.
This filter was constructed to optimize user experience. It has adjustable height inlet and output nozzles, easy-access flow control, and an anti-overheating design to keep the motor from becoming damaged if the filter becomes clogged. Combined with the quick disconnect system and anti-airlock self-priming system (removes the need to re-prime the filter), this makes for a very user friendly device that even beginners can operate confidently.
The most powerful of all the Cascade units, the Cascade 1500 delivers many of the same ease-of-use features as its brethren, albeit with more punch. The Cascade 1500 has a max capacity of 200 gallons, with a max flow rate of 350 gph. The unit measures 20.5" x 12" x 11", and weighs 15 pounds, putting it in the mid-range regarding size and weight.
Filtration is similar to other power canister filter models. The upright design sends water through the media trays and out the other end clean. It's sealed air tight so that the flow rate stays high, even while pumping large quantities of water through fully stocked trays. The trays can be customized with various media pouches, allowing you to achieve the delicate balance you need for your turtles.
One feature I found especially helpful was the 360-degree rotational valve system. I sometimes have trouble positioning filters in a spot where they're not in the way but can still reach the tank. The rotating valves made this a complete non-issue. You can put your filter just about anywhere and still have the hoses reach the tank without any worries.
Selecting a filter for turtle tanks can be difficult since power is such an important feature. Most users want to balance power with other factors, and in that regard, the Aquatop CF500 takes the cake. It's mid-sized and will fit in most spaces, has excellent power, exceptional capacity for customized filter media, and includes a powerful UV sterilizer to help get tank water extra clean.
You won't have to break the bank to enjoy this filter and its features, and even though it doesn't come bundled with a ton of filtration media, chances are you're going to want to mix and match anyway, so it's not that great of a drawback. The Aquato CF500 is an excellent high-power canister filter than can easily be recommended to tank owners with multiple aquatic turtles.
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