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Mechanical Filtration Sees Enhancements

Updates and additions to skimming and matting staples find success with homeowners, companies say.

By Andrea Landis – June 2012

Ponds and aquariums bring magnificent aquatic life into the homes and backyards of millions. Along with providing brilliant-hues and graceful motion, the inhabitants bring high volumes of waste. Owners use various forms of filtration to mitigate the toxins produced by fish excretion and to protect pond life.

Experts report that of all filtration forms, mechani­cal filtration removes potentially dangerous waste most immediately. It captures waste pieces as they float along the water using a floss form, such as a skimmer, or a mat, located in what manufacturers and hobbyists refer to as "black boxes."

As they gather waste for manual clearing, these mechanisms prevent algae growth and toxic levels of ammonia. Several manufacturers reported enhancements and additions in the category.

Updates to Simple Skimmers

"A skimmer sits at the edge of the pond and, like a pool skimmer, strains water through a basket or net or filter pad," said Demi Fortuna, director of product development at Atlantic Water Gardens in Mantua, Ohio. "It takes up all surface debris before it can start to sink."

Because skimmers require periodic maintenance for optimum functionality, users generally want heavy-duty yet easy-to-use models. Blue Thumb Distributing Inc., a division of Pond Builder in Saginaw, Mich., recently revised its Elite Skimmer to accommodate customer demands for both qualities.

"We added a stainless-steel skimmer filter mat tray to our Elite Skimmers in response to customers wanting a durable handle to pull media out of skimmer boxes without fear of the soiled media falling apart or distorting depending on its durability," said Aaron Scarlata, business development manager at Blue Thumb.

The company also identified a demand for skimmers with deeper and wider chambers for use within high-flow pumps.

“We designed wider pump chambers inside our mechanical skimmers that allow taller, higher-flow-style pumps and are less vulnerable to low water situations,” Scarlata said. "This gives homeowners the opportunity for growth as they become more involved in their pond hobby."

More room equals more space for other pumps, such as those required for small garden pond fountains, statuary and other aeration needs, he said.

The Pond Digger in Yucaipa, Calif., also responded to the demand for adaptable filtration with its Helix Pond Skimmer. "The Helix can handle a wide range of flow rates, from 1,500 to 8,000 gallons per hour," said Eric Triplett, owner of the waterscape design and construction company. "This range gives hobbyists extreme flexibility in their pond's life support system and design and great versatility in pump selection."

Triplett's company further expanded custom filtration options with the construction of under­gravel suction grids, built beneath ponds to trap solids and debris.

"Ponds with correctly installed under-gravel suction grid mechanical filtration tend to be extremely clear with little to no neutrally buoyant solids floating around in the water column because these solids become trapped in the bottom of the pond, "Triplett said. "The bottom of the pond becomes a living mechanical filter."

A Biological Boost

While companies like Pond Builder and The Pond Digger made alterations to their mechanical filtration devices themselves, most experts said the marked trend within the category is the addition of a biological filtration system to existing mechanical equipment. Most manufacturers place the natural media behind skimmers or mats in the filtration process to further purify water before releasing it back into the pond. They report increased effectiveness with the pairing.

"Phytofiltration - the use of plants to treat water - has really come to the fore in the last 10 or 15 years," Fortuna said. "People are starting to realize that no matter how good of a 'black box' you build, you can always make it more effective by using natural filtration along with it. We've seen a lot of people start to recommend with their filtration products the natural filtration that goes hand in hand and actually does more of the filtering than the boxes do. It’s a very interesting move toward a more natural filtration system.”

This move proved beneficial for manufacturers like EasyPro Pond Products in Grant, Mich., which introduced a skimmer line with biological components called Axiom Skimmers earlier this year.

“One of our models combines traditional mechanical filtration and biological filtering in the same unit,” said Dave Ouwinga, president of EasyPro. “A second filter chamber behind the skimming chamber holds biological media and will effectively filter fish ponds up to 2,000 gallons without the need for any additional media. This is very handy for pond builders who do not want the traditional waterfall box at the beginning of the stream."

Atlantic Water Gardens also reports using biological filtration with skimmers for thorough purification along with some added perks. According to Fortuna, the skimmer is considered pre-filtration because it takes off anything floating on the surface of the water before it gets to the pump.

“The water goes through a little door, through a basket, then up to the FilterFalls,” Fortuna said, “where it is pumped through a series of pads and then overflows out the top and back down to the pond by gravity, like a waterfall.” Hobbyists can place plants in the box, allowing their roots to help purify the water even further as it flows out of it, he added.

Several manufacturers said that designing pond products that improve the mechanical filtration process or boast the advantages of mechanical and biological methods simultaneously produced clearer ponds and more satisfied customers.