Sunday, December 08, 2002 

 

Coastal waters soon to offer final resting place
Underwater: Eternal Reefs provide burial option among waves.

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By ALISON BESHUR
The Brownsville Herald

Shortly before Margaret Heflin was diagnosed with a terminal illness, she read a newspaper article about the creation of artificial reefs and a company that was blending cremation remains with cement to make reef balls that were then added to artificial reef sites.

Heflinís daughter, Patricia Smith, 63, said her motherís decision to have her cremains buried in a reef ball in Sarasota Bay changed her dying process, because she felt she could be part of a living community even in death.

"Before she died, she would say things like, ĎIím going to see my fishesí," Smith recalls. "And ĎIíve always wanted to own ocean front propertyí."

Next fall, Eternal Reefs, Inc., the company that offered Smithís mother a burial alternative will begin to offer burials off the shores of South Padre Island. The company is accepting orders through the middle of July for the first burial set for October 2003, said company president Don Brawley.

"Weíre creating a permanent living legacy for generations to come," Brawley said. "Man has done so much damage to the natural reef system and this is a way to enhance it."

Texas Parks and Wildife has more than 40 artificial reef sites in the Gulf of Mexico and has granted the company permission to contribute reef balls to the site about 10 miles from the jetties, said Paul Hammerschmidt, artificial reef program director for TPW.

"The Gulf of Mexico is flat with very little geological relief," he said. "History and science has shown the artificial reef systems improve the overall marine life."

While most of the reef sites are made up of decommissioned oil and gas platforms, reef balls are one of the approved methods, Hammerschmidt said.

"Theyíre stable, durable and actually act like a natural reef, attracting marine life of all different levels. A whole ecosystem gets built out there."

Eternal Reefs, Inc. offers reef balls in four sizes with costs ranging from about $1,500 to just under $5,000. The largest reef ball called the Atlantis, is 4-feet high and 6-feet wide and weighs about 4,000 pounds. The Aquarius reef, the smallest individual option is 2-feet high and 3-feet wide and weighs about 400 pounds. Community reefs that blend a group of remains are also available, Brawley said.

Modules are porous and the mixture is pH neutral, so they donít disturb the natural environment, Brawley said.

"The exterior is rough," he said. "And it creates all of the nooks and crannies for all of the little buds of life to get a foothold. If we get enough people doing this we can have a truly positive impact on our ocean ecosystem and make a meaningful difference."

Smithís 83-year-old mother died shortly after 9/11 and her burial was in June.

During the ceremony, families wrote messages on the reef balls with colored chalk and then watched as flower petals and wreaths were scattered over the water while the spheres descended.

"While the event was solemn and moving, you didnít see people breaking down, because it was an uplifting experience," Smith recalls.

Heflinís daughter said her mother was not a spiritual person, but thought of her final resting place eased her mind. "It gave her a destination," Smith said. "It was tremendous."

Buoys mark the spot of the artificial reef site and family members are given the exact coordinates, Smith said.

"Iím not a certified diver, but my sons are," she said. "Itís not likely that Iíll visit the reef, but one day, maybe my grandsons will."

To find out more about the reefs, visit www.eternalreefs.com or call (888) 423-7333.

The Brownsville Herald
1135 E. Van Buren
Brownsville, TX 78520

956-542-4301
1-800-488-4301

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