|The prospect of death is bad enough. But for some people --
scuba divers, fishing enthusiasts, retired Navy sailors -- what's
really chilling is the idea of spending eternity on land.
alternative: burial at sea in an artificial reef. An Atlanta
company, Eternal Reefs Inc., takes cremated remains, mixes them with
concrete and forms them into balls that resemble igloos with holes.
Designed to last 500 years, these structures support marine life by
providing hiding places for fish and offering hard surfaces for
sponges, coral and other marine creatures.
Monday, in the water off Hugh Taylor Birch Park in Fort Lauderdale,
reef balls containing the ashes of 16 people were lowered 65 feet to
the ocean floor.
As the wind whipped up the sea, two fishing
boats carrying friends and relatives left the Radisson Bahia Mar
hotel in Fort Lauderdale and headed to a spot about a mile and a
half off shore.
They arrived just as a barge was lowering the
last of the reef balls into the water, where divers waited to
position them in exactly the right spot. As heavy swells rocked the
boats, Don Brawley, president of Eternal Reefs, slowly read the
names of each of the deceased. At each name he paused, allowing
family members to go to the rail and toss in a small symbolic
concrete reef ball and flowers.
On the fishing boat Flamingo,
Roxana Callow of Rockville, Md., waited to hear the name of her
brother John Nickels Griffith, who died at 35 from a combination of
arteriosclerosis and combined medication poisoning.
a scuba diver, and he would have given anything to live oceanfront,"
she said. "This was the furthest south I could get him, with warm
water and clear water. He just liked the water and he liked being
under it doing the scuba. It seemed like the right thing to
When Brawley called his name, Callow and her three
sisters and her brother's best friend walked to the railing and
tossed flowers into the water. She stood at the railing and gazed
out to sea. As the ceremony ended and the boat emitted three horn
blasts, tears began rolling down her cheeks.
Later, back at
the dock, she said she knew they made a good decision. "When I was
looking out at his view now, his view for eternity -- he would be
The company was founded in 1998 by a group of
diving enthusiasts who were already in the artificial reef business.
Artificial reefs have become more controversial in the past few
years, as scientists and environmentalists questioned whether they
helped generate marine life or simply concentrate it where fishing
hooks would be waiting. But the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission approved their plan as likely to benefit the
marine environment. And the Environmental Protection Agency gave the
plan its blessing, concluding that the addition of the cremated
human remains would be "relatively benign chemically."
company offers a choice of models. The top-of-the-line Atlantis reef
weighs up to 4,000 pounds and costs $4,995. The least-expensive reef
is the Community Reef, which costs $1,495 and contains the ashes of
several people. The company has placed more than 250 reefs in the
waters off Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, New
Jersey, Texas and Virginia, according to the company.
clients came to Eternal Reefs after they or their families found it
was difficult to get government approval for burial at sea, said
Brawley, the company's president.
"It's very complicated to
get it done," he said. "This is an environmentally positive
Most of the people whose remains were lowered into
the water Monday appeared to have some connection to the ocean or
When Eleonore Boucher, who loved to fish in
the Keys, was ill with pancreatic cancer, her husband Leo recalled,
she saw something in the newspaper about Eternal Reefs. She called
the company for a videotape.
"We viewed the tape, and we both
said that's how we want our remains treated when we die," he said,
seated on a bench on the Flamingo. "My wife and I both believe this
supports the environment. And it's got a greater degree of
permanence than being in the cemetery because I think eventually
cemeteries could be dug up."
When Richard Gurnick, of
Lafayette, Ind., a career Navy sailor who served in destroyers, was
dying of cancer, his brother Robert mentioned a television program
on memorial reefs. "He said, `I like that, will you do it for me?'"
his brother recalled. "I said `Sure I'll do it for you,' and here we
And a memorial reef seemed perfect for A. George
Hartman, a former reporter for the old Fort Lauderdale Daily News,
and an avid scuba diver who may well have visited this particular
"He loved the water," said his wife Betty, now
of Boyne City, Mich. "It just seemed that would be such a fitting
David Fleshler can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4535.