Buried at Sea – 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 the 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 them. The idea: build artificial reefs made of concrete balls.

In 1992, Reef Ball Development Group built its first reef near Fort 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 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 and 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. In addition, 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. Coral reefs for ashes are a match made in heaven.

Cremation Ashes into Coral Reefs?

“Can I be buried at sea?” The idea of a sea burial is romantic, but is it practical? Don Brawley of Eternal Reefs thinks it is. Don Brawley launched Eternal Reefs over twenty years ago to honor his father-in-law's wishes and make sea burials more accessible.

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.

From Ashes to Coral Reef

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 to personalize 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 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 Neptune Society Memorial Reef costs can vary depending on which package you choose. Packages range from a basic scatter at sea option to a limited release package complete with artificial reef sculpture and copper memorial plaque.

The Current State of Coral Reefs

Coral reefs, like those found in the warm, shallow coastal waters off southern Florida, are among the world's most beautiful reefs. 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, overfishing, and agricultural practices that negatively impact the reefs. The deterioration of reefs is 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 sea life, allow the coral reef to flourish and create barriers that boats cannot access. The water burial process is easy with companies such as Eternal Reefs and The Neptune Memorial Reef. As cremations continue and the demand for eco-friendly alternatives increases, more reef balls will be placed into the oceans.

Eco-Friendly Urns

OneWorld Memorials offers several ecologically friendly cremation urn options. Our biodegradable urns are ideal for the eco-conscious individual who doesn’t want to occupy a piece of land but wishes to be reunited with the earth after their passing. Our biodegradable collection also features a variety of options for burials at sea. These eco-friendly urns have surged in popularity in recent years, and we’re proud to offer a wide variety of styles to suit every taste and budget.

For loved ones who felt more at home in the forest than by the sea, you might consider honoring their memory with a memorial tree urn. With these unique urns, you can memorialize your loved one with a living tree grown from their ashes. Choose from petite bonsai-style trees that can be kept in the home, or perhaps opt for a larger tree variety such as pine, oak or redwood that can be planted outdoors.

For more information about planning a memorial or choosing the perfect urn, visit our help center. Whichever memorial and burial method you choose, we hope you find what you’re looking for at OneWorld Memorials.

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.

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