100 gallon terrarium (paludarium?) build... need help getting started

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I've had a female red eared slider in my classroom for about 5+ years now, and she's outgrown her tank. I got a $500 PTA grant to upgrade her and I've already spent $430 on the tank so lots will be coming out of pocket. Hoping some people would be interested in giving me some advice with my 'budget build'.

I wrote the grant as a 'paludarium' showcasing a natural riparian habitat (the grant had to connect to my curriculum in some way) but I think the idea of going to a truly bio-active/self sustaining ecosystem is just not practical for my situation. I'd like to make the vibe as natural as possible without having a true bog filter or microfauna/detritus etc. (well maybe some, we'll see).

I spent an entire day getting it from an old dirty coral reef tank with lots of stuck silicone everywhere to a cleaner (not perfect) tank that is still a little hazy after sanding and polishing... I followed the instructions as best as a could so not sure why it's still hazy...maybe I did something wrong. But oh well must move on.

My main question is, do you think I should try to build the 'land/basking' portion inside the tank, or should I build up and above the tank?

Pros of building inside the tank:
-I can use the wooden hinged lid that came with the tank (an entire cabinet came with it, see last photo) and build my UV light into the lid so the lighting would be an all-in one situation
-I wouldn’t have to design an upper level
-clear access to the false back return pump/filter for cleaning

Cons of building inside the tank:
-It cuts down on water volume dramatically, giving her only a fraction of the swimming space (and the tank is already pretty narrow due to the false back filter system)
-I’d have to take the current wooden lid off and design a way to make the basking log come up and out of the tank, configure a lighting set up, figure out how to make sure she can’t escape, etc…a much bigger project
-the top story would have to somehow be removable so I could access the false back filters.

Here is what I’ve envisioned so far:
-get rid of the wooden lid and building the second story with a natural log coming up and out of the tank at an angle for a basking spot (if I’m feeling confident)

-build a sort of rock wall on the back wall (black area) with natural stone/silicone, leaving some small potting spots for plants that aren’t submerged (bromeliads, pathos, fern, well I need to do more research on R.E.S. natural habitat) or could also use coconut husk/moss on back wall. But the portion under the water should be rock because she is very strong and active and will try to eat/destroy submerged plants/moss.

-use the built in back filter (still have to figure out how it all works) but looks like I could use filter foam and some bioactive media like those lava rocks for a three-layered system with an overflow)

-if it goes well, add some fast little creatures, maybe some shrimp or something she wouldn’t try to eat.

I am all ears at this point because I feel like I’m sort of stuck at this stage until I make some decisions. Thanks in advance to anyone who has read this far and may decide to reply!
 

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JMJ

Marsh Gorilla
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It looks like an acrylic tank, they can have a tendency to become hazy over time dep on how they were cleaned or mineral deposits from reef salts used in reef tanks. It’s been a long time since I’ve had any experience with them, but there may be ways to polish the haziness away.

I kinda wonder if you could make a hybrid between your two choices? possibly remove the front of the wood canopy and while retaining the rear and sides as a support structure to build off of. With having kept RES a know their waste producing abilities I agree with you on not looking at a bioactive type setup and looking at more traditional aquarium filtration like the integrated one or a canister filter.
 
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Thanks for your reply! Sometimes it just helps to see if you're on the right track, and now I feel good about my choice of going more traditional filtration. I also hadn't thought of just cutting the front portion off and leaving the sides, then I could possibly make a groove or ledge with a platform that slides in and out... thanks for getting my brainstorming going again I was stuck!
 

JMJ

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Thanks for your reply! Sometimes it just helps to see if you're on the right track, and now I feel good about my choice of going more traditional filtration. I also hadn't thought of just cutting the front portion off and leaving the sides, then I could possibly make a groove or ledge with a platform that slides in and out... thanks for getting my brainstorming going again I was stuck!
You’re welcome! That would be a really cool way to adapt that canopy, possibly something using the bearing trackways they use in furniture drawers and file cabinets so that you can pull it out the front easily for cleaning or maintaining plants.
 
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Welcome @Leah! A classroom RES turtle tank sounds great. Could you please make an image from above (looking down, inside) the tank? Did it come with an acrylic top? Did the pet shop own the tank or take it on consignment? Reason I ask is checking it for leaks before you proceed. Was the wooden cabinet used with this tank or was it from another set-up? Does the overflow box have a cover and could the turtle crawl into it if the water level is high? Are there bulkheads (drain and return) holes on the bottom or side of the tank? Are the tank's outside dimensions approximately 60"long, 18" wide (front to back) and about 20" high?
I too keep RES and have past experience with classroom aquariums. Some things to consider:
Maintenance must be easy,
Protection and quality of life for the turtle...this can be challenging in a high traffic environment,
I vote to keep things very simple.
Give the turtle as much swimming space as possible. The tank is barely large enough for your turtle.
Keep the inside of the tank clear of decorations that will reduce swimming space and trap debris. As you mentioned, they will shred or eat anything.
Make the basking island/heat/UVB area on top of the tank.
Create your paludarium effect above and drape vines around the outside of the tank beyond of the turtle's reach.
Sorry for all of the questions. My turtles have taught me much through the 'school of hard knocks' over the years.
 
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I do wish you were on the east coast ! i'd set you up...

First statement is turtles are the number one producers of aquatic pets that can produce large amounts of salmonella . They are poop machines.

I had a very unique paldarium years ago one that had a waterfall dropping into the open top tank. that had the planting area above and wider then the fish tank.

But what really made it amazing was in this upper area i put bug screening from an outdoor window that you find in every house in America, was to run up to the ceiling from the top of the tank. This was done for the BIRDS,

2 shaft tail finches that once my wife provided them with a nest , started breeding almost instantly so the cute little chirps from two birds not even the size of a canary soon became 6 OR 8 not so cute birds who made a heck of a racket calling for mom and dad to feed them.

So basically the standard fish tank was built off the wall a foot and a waterproof shelf was made.. The water was pumped partially up to the waterfall, that was more streams of water falling down moss covered rocks leaking and watering the plants on the shelf that then fell into the top of the fish tanks where it was all planted. The bulk of the filters water went to circulation in the water area.

I made a blog of it years ago that can still be found if you do a search for Paldarium vivarium i'm unsure but i think you'll like.

If i had your set up i would utilize the over flow by cutting a slot into it at the height you want the water area. And have the drop down below into a trickle filter , the absolute best at getting ammonias neutralized avoiding salmonella .

Are you handy ? can or do you have access to tools ?
PLANTED TANK1.jpg
PLANTED TANK1-2.jpg
 

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