Resting in an Artificial Coral Reef

By Linda Banks

Beyond the Cremation Urn

Do you love the beauty of the sea? Many people do, and some people take their love of the ocean into account when planning their final arrangements. Some of the more popular cremation-related items are dolphin urns, sand urns and a continuing practice of either burial at sea or using water burial urns. So, how about considering a coral reef as one’s final resting place? Artificial reefs can now act as an urn for water burials keeping the cremation ashes safe amongst the sea life. Imagine spending all of eternity with tropical fish, coral and other marine life.

Reef Balls to the Rescue

Todd Barber and Don Brawley were college roommates at the University of Georgia in the late 1980s. Both were avid scuba divers and often visited the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. They observed the deterioration of the fragile reefs and wondered how they could help protect the reefs. The idea: build artificial reefs made of concrete balls. In 1992, Reef Ball Development Group built its first reef near Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Reef balls were some of the first coral reef protection efforts made in the Florida Keys and their success did not go unnoticed.

The Benefits of Artificial Reefs to the Environment

Artificial reefs are man-made structures that are carefully placed into the water and are allowed to flourish as they attract coral, fish and other marine life. There are many benefits to adding artificial structures near real coral reef sites, such as protecting existing natural reefs, creating new reef areas, providing additional hard bottom so that sponges, seaweed, and coral have something to cling to. They also increase the available habitat for many sea creatures thus decreasing stress on the natural reefs. Artificial reefs can be made in virtually any size or shape, though concrete balls were particularly easy to place and position.

Artificial reefs allow for the protection and preservation of the natural coral reef sites that still remain and have become an important tool in preservation efforts. With an increase in the desire for environmentally friendly alternatives for cremation, artificial reefs have become a wonderful alternative to scattering or storing cremated ashes.

Cremation Ashes into Coral Reefs?

Don Brawley launched Eternal Reefs to honor his father-in-law's wishes. Eternal Reefs uses sea burials to create artificial reefs using reef balls made of cremated human remains mixed with concrete. While artificial reefs were originally designed as a way to protect the fragile, coral reefs, Brawley’s father-in-law told him that he wished to be buried at sea in a reef ball. Working with local and federal regulatory agencies, Eternal Reefs is one of a growing number of companies that offer memorial reefs to people who choose to be cremated and want the ocean as a final resting place.

Creating memorial reefs via sea burials are unique for many reasons. Not only are they a memorable cremation urn, but they also provide the opportunity for an ash scattering ceremony and sea burial. Currently there are over 1800 Eternal Reefs placed off the coasts of Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia. This number grows every year as more and more sea-loving individuals choose to make reef conservation part of their final wishes.

When an individual is cremated and incorporated into a reef ball, family members are invited to take part in the casting process. Family members can place hand prints or mementos into the concrete reef ball as a way of personalizing their loved one’s contribution to the sea. Some companies transport families by boat to the site where the memorial reef ball is lowered and placed onto the reef. Families receive a GPS survey with the longitude and latitude of the reef’s location.

Some facilities permit family members to visit the site by boat, and to scuba dive to the artificial reefs. Couples may ask to have their cremated remains combined in a single reef, and some companies will provide the service for pets. The Neptune Society has created a 16-acre coral reef system off the coast of Miami. Besides placing ashes into coral reefs, long-term studies of the artificial reefs show that they have been successful in attracting algae, invertebrates, and fish. 

The Current State of Coral Reefs

Coral reefs, like those found in the warm, shallow coastal waters off southern Florida, are among the most beautiful reefs of the world. The fragile ecosystem appears in different shapes and colors and hosts some of the greatest biodiversity found anywhere. Algae, tropical fish, turtles, eels, shrimp, crabs and urchins find homes and protection in the cracks and crevices of the reefs.

Sadly, the fragile reefs around the world are being threatened by pollution, over fishing, and agricultural practices that negatively impact the reefs. The deterioration of reefs are further exaggerated by rising ocean temperatures, which can kill the coral and displace the many species that call the reefs home. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), given the present rate of destruction, by the year 2050 it is anticipated that 70% of the world's coral reefs will be destroyed.

Artificial reefs serve to benefit both humans and the environment. By choosing to preserve the environment, selecting an artificial reef as a final resting place will help maintain, and even benefit, the ocean. Artificial reefs will create habitats for the sea life, allow for the coral reef to flourish, and creates barriers that boats cannot access. With companies such as Eternal Reefs and The Neptune Society the reef water burial process is made easy. As cremations continue and the demand for eco-friendly alternatives increase, the more reef balls will be placed into the oceans.


Linda Banks provided extended end-of-life care for her beloved Aunt who was like her mother. When her brother suddenly died, she was instrumental in orchestrating all of the details of his final wishes to be cremated. Linda has been an active blogger for ten years, including blogging about Willie Nelson and his family. Willie told her recently that he reads her blog every day.  


My parents want to preplan what’s going to happen after they pass away because they want to do something different than a funeral. I found it interesting when you said sea burials create artificial reefs using cremated human remains. Thank you for the advice on selecting an artificial reef as a final resting place.

Me and my husband have been married for almost 25 years. We both want to be cremated. I saw a clip on tv about ashes being blended into cement and put at the bottom of the ocean so that coral has something to grow on and form a new reef. I told both my kids and husband that’s what I want them to do with my ashes! I love love love this idea!

Absolutely my ideal burial option. This is so beautiful.


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