Building a Turtle Pond

Published on October 25, 2023

Turtle pond with pennisula
Turtle ponds need an island — and sometimes a peninsula.

After a two-year quarantine period, the turtles finally have their own new habitat! The turtles’ owners sold their house, and over the last two years of construction on the new home, their fish and turtles were living in my quarantine facilities. At the old house, the turtles lived in the koi pond. However, this time they got their own special habitat. The fish went into their new home last month, and now a month later, the turtle habitat is ready.

The turtle pond is placed to the right of the home’s entry. It’s located next to a game room with large, sliding-glass doors opening into an atrium. This is where the turtle habitat is built wall to wall, with a combination of water plants and surrounding vegetation.

The area is approximately 13 feet by 26 feet, and the pond fills about half of the space. A walkway between the sliding doors and the pond leads around the corner and through a gate to where the filtration is located.

Filtration Concerns When Building a Turtle Pond

Turtle pond construction
Top left: The concrete collar and block edge get prepped for Polyurea. Top right: Polyurea coats the pond and up the wall. Bottom Left: The large boulders were the most difficult to place. Bottom Right: The equipment area has a sand and gravel filter on a shelf for gravity flow.

I learned from housing these water turtles for two years that prefiltration is very important. Good prefiltration is a must, because turtle poop is different from fish waste. The heavy solids are greater and must be flushed more often. The pond is small, at 2 ft. deep and just over 1,000 gallons, and the 26-foot-wide back wall is a wet, weeping wall with four water entry locations to flow across the back and return to the pond.

A 3-inch LWS aerated bottom drain with 5-inch diffuser is at the end closest to the filtration, along with a shelf-mounted Aqua-Niche skimmer. The bottom drain flows water to a 55-gallon-drum radial separator with a discharge pump for cleaning. A Wlim Wave 1 1/6 Horsepower pump pulls from the radial separator and directly from the skimmer, with a valve on each line for balancing and maintenance.

The water leaving the pump is split between a 55-gallon-drum aerated biofilter and a 55-gallon-drum up-flow sand and gravel filter. The aerated biofilter is raised slightly above water level — about 12 inches to help facilitate a gravity-flow system. Water from the aerated biofilter is gravity fed through a 3-inch line, with an air purge to three 1 ½-inch returns on the left end of the pond that push water toward the drain and skimmer. The up-flow sand and gravel filter is placed higher on a shelf to give it the ability to gravity flow back along the weeping wall waterfalls.

The 55-watt Flo-free UV is mounted as downflow inside the sand and gravel filter with a small bleed hole to prevent air entrapment. One 3-inch line wraps around the back of the pond and along the wall with each of the falls feeding off it with 2-inch lines. I chose 2-inch lines to keep the water moving slowly up into the spills along the wall.

Warding the Walls

Monte Malloy of Monte Malloy Masonry constructed the pond edge and rock walls. A planted wall and was created by inserting six planting pots into the rocks and concrete during construction. Each pot has its own separate ¾-inch drainage line leading around to an area near the front gate. Each pot has its own dripper line fed through the ¾-inch pipe connected to the landscape watering system.

Paul Parszik of Artisan Aquatics came in to shoot the atrium with polyurea. Most of the atrium area, including the flat area between the pond and walls and 4 feet up the walls, are all covered in polyurea. Just a small area on either side of the pond and across the front where the walkway is located was left as original soil.

These areas are planted with succulents, ground covers, creeping fig to cover the walls, creeping thyme and a queen palm along with some other varieties to soften the room. The back wall is planted with grasses, succulents, purple heart, coleus and elephant’s foot to grow down the wall over time.

Plantings around a turtle pond
The planting edge is shown at left, while a turtle resident checks out their new digs at right.

The Turtle Den

Turtle pond with plantings
Their new pond has filled out nicely with appropriate plantings.

A flagstone peninsula leading to a small island on the left end above the return jets and cave was constructed on the right end outside the pond under a large boulder as a place for the turtles to hang out under the weeping water. Two areas about 3 feet in diameter and filled with sand are constructed on either end of the walkway. These are outside the polyurea-sealed section and surrounded by plantings as spaces for the turtles to burrow.

If the pond needs to be heated a little during the winter, heaters can be easily installed in the prefilter. I heated the water for the turtles during quarantine to keep it above 50 degrees Fahrenheit with a bucket heater mounted in the prefilter. The return water for the water wall can be slowed or shut down with only the underwater returns running if necessary.

It will be fun to see how this system matures over time with all the plantings and additional turtles I know are coming!

About the Author
Kent Wallace is the owner of Living Water Solutions, based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The company has expanded from pond construction to manufacturing and working with architects, contractors and owners to insure the proper installation and design of a successful filtration system. 

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