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Reefs turn into final resting place

Loved ones' remains become memorials at sea

Ashley Branch

Loved ones from seven families found their final resting place Thursday 13 miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico.

Among them was Florence Soule, who came to rest 100 feet below the water's surface.

"My dad was buried at sea, and my mom wanted the same thing," said Soule's son, David, of Pensacola. He said it was a fitting place for his mother because she was the pillar of their family.

Main News Photo

Jeanne Beverley Jones, left, and her daughter Geri Well, center, watch as the remains of their husband/father is incorporated into an artifical reef.

Tony Giberson

With the help of Eternal Reefs, she became something similar for the sea life in the Gulf of Mexico.

"This is what she would have wanted," he said.

The Soules got some help to fulfill Frances' last wish from Eternal Reefs, a Decatur, Ga., company that creates and places memorial reefs that are made by mixing cremated remains into liquid concrete to form an artificial reef.

"We like to think that it's not that our loved ones have gone, but what they are doing now," said Don Brawley, company founder. "As a final act, to have a positive act is a very rare opportunity."

Brawley, who was a reef builder when his father-in-law asked to have his cremated remains mixed in with the reef, later turned the concept into something available to anyone.

Main News Photo

An artifical reef containing the ashen remains of Tom W. Jones is lowered into the Gulf Of Mexico Thursday from a barge.

Tony Giberson

Early on, the company faced resistance from the state, but it was determined that the reefs would not be underwater cemeteries and, by creating new marine habitats, would have a positive impact on the environment.

Memorial reefs are placed where they are most ecologically needed. The company oversees placement of the reefs only in officially permitted areas of reef development - projects managed by federal, state and local governments.

"Another benefit is that the families all of the sudden have this really deep connection with the ocean and the environment," Brawley.

Before Tom W. Jones' memorial reef was placed, his wife, Beverly, and daughter, Geri Wells, said the day - which was sprinkled with rain, pods of dolphins and the overhead roar of the practicing Blue Angels - was picture perfect for Jones.

"My husband would be in seventh heaven," Beverly Jones said. "This was his way of life. I know he is smiling down right now."

Wells said her father was an environmentalist and the reef would be his "living legacy."

"The beauty of this is that when you have a burial, there is a site you have to visit. This is so free," Wells said. "He is adding to life on Earth, and that's all around us. He's not in a place, he has a place in the world."

During the placement ceremony, each reef was lowered from a barge near the fishing boat carrying the families. As each reef splashed beneath the waves, the families comforted each other and themselves. Some carried champagne and others clasped their hands in prayer as their loved ones slipped into the water.

Beverly Jones and Wells gave a high-five after Jones' reef was lifted into the water. Flowers flew from the hands of the families into the waves.

"Bye, dad," Wells said.

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