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February 06, 2006

Flagler joins list of reef memorial sites

An Atlanta-based company is bringing new meaning to burial at sea off Flagler County's shoreline.

Eternal Reefs Inc. has chosen Flagler as the next site for a memorial reef partly made of cremated human remains, known as cremains. The remains are mixed with concrete and formed into balls that are designed to encourage growth of coral and vegetation, providing habitat for sea life.

The Flagler County reef will be the fifth offshore memorial site in Florida. Eternal Reefs also has memorial reef sites off Sarasota, the Tampa Bay area, Pensacola and Fort Lauderdale, said company founder Don Brawley.

"A lot of loved ones say 'just scatter my remains' and the family doesn't like that because they feel like they are throwing their loved ones away," Brawley said. "We'd like to think we're helping the family build an environmental legacy."

Memorial reefs and other creative memorials are growing as cremations gain popularity, said Jack Springer, president of the Chicago-based Cremation Association of North America.

While memorial art is more common, memorial reefs can intrigue those who want to do something to express their love for the sea and the environment, he said.

"It appeals to the person as a memorial and ecological statement," he said.

The reef balls, which last 500 years, come in four sizes. The smallest is 2 feet high and 3 feet wide and weighs 400 pounds. The largest is 4 feet high and 6 feet wide and weighs 4,000 pounds, Brawley said.

Brawley and his partner, George Frankel, founded Eternal Reefs in 1998 with the first concrete reef ball made with the remains of Brawley's father-in-law.

Creating the memorial reefs begins with mixing together 5 gallons of water and 2 gallons of an eco-friendly concrete and pouring the mixture into a mold, Brawley said.

The reefs are dressed with an inscribed plaque and then cured for a month. A viewing is held for the family to take photos or write messages on the reef, Brawley said.

On the day the reef is dedicated, a boat carries the reef to its memorial site in the ocean. The family can watch the reef's placement from a separate charter boat, Brawley said.

Family members are invited to participate in every step of the process to help them overcome their grief, he said.

"We're trying to work with the families to be interactive and feel good about what they're doing," Brawley said.

The memorial reefs cost between $1,000 and$5,000, not including the charter boat rental, Brawley said. According to the company's Web site, Eternal Reefs has placed about 350 memorial reefs off the coasts of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Texas.

But local funeral home directors say it may take some time before memorial reefs catch on in this part of Florida.

People are more familiar with memorial gardens where they can visit their loved ones' remains, said Nancy Lohman, owner of Lohman Funeral Homes in Volusia and Flagler counties.

"For a lot of people, they want that place to go to remember," Lohman said.

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Photos provided by Eternal reefs, Inc.
Above, family members use sidewalk chalk and wax paper to create a rubbing of their loved one's memorial reef. Eternal Reefs Inc. has chosen Flagler as the next site for a memorial reef partly made of cremated human remains. Below, coral begins to grow on an Eternal Reefs memorial reef ball after one year.

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