For months before Doug Knowlton succumbed to
cancer in August 2003, he had explored various options for his final
"His wish was always to be buried at sea," said his wife, Valerie Knowlton of Cary.
Both husband and wife grew up near the ocean in Massachusetts and both loved going to the beach.
"That was the one place he really enjoyed being," she said.
They had thought the only alternative was to scatter his ashes on the water. But during his research, Doug Knowlton ran across an Internet site for a company called Eternal Reefs, based in Atlanta.
He never made a decision about it before he died. But afterward, Valerie Knowlton began to look more closely at what the company offered.
On June 14, Doug Knowlton's ashes will become part of a memorial section of an artificial reef at the bottom of the ocean off Southport.
"It just seemed like a good thing to me to be able to do something for the ocean as well as to fulfill my husband's wishes," Valerie Knowlton said.
It will be the second such memorial Eternal Reefs has created off the North Carolina coast, said company founder Don Brawley. The first was about four years ago off the Outer Banks, he said.
No other company has done this in North Carolina, said Jim Francesconi, artificial reef coordinator with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
Eternal Reefs takes the cremated remains and mixes them into the concrete as a reef unit is being cast, Brawley said.
"The remains are truly integrated into the concrete where it becomes a personal living memorial," he said.
Eternal Reefs was formed in 1998 as an offshoot of Reef Ball Development Group, a company that makes and sells concrete balls that are especially designed to promote marine life growth.
Brawley's father-in-law had come to him and asked for his remains to be put in one of the reef balls, saying he'd rather spend eternity with sea life around him than to be buried in a cemetery. A few months later, when his father-in -law died, the Carlton Palmer Memorial Reef was cast and put in place off Sarasota, Fla.
The idea caught on from there, Brawley said.
Many families prefer the idea of a stationary memorial to that of scattering ashes, Brawley said.
"A lot of families have trouble doing that because they feel like they're throwing their loved one away," he said.
With a memorial reef, families can visit the site by boat, fish there or even dive there, he said.
The company places a bronze plaque with the deceased's name on the reef ball. The families can make etchings of the plaque to keep.
"We'll even let them participate in the mixing of the concrete," Brawley said. "They can put their handprints on the top of the memorial."
Cost ranges from $995 for a community reef ball containing the remains of several people to $4,995 for the largest individual memorial reef ball, which weighs about 4,000 pounds, Brawley said.
The cost is in addition to the price of cremation a funeral home will charge.
The reefs, once placed, become the property of the state. It is essentially a public reef built with private money, Brawley said.
Families need not worry that the reef balls will float away, Brawley said. Since the early 1990s, Reef Ball Development Group has made thousands of reef balls for artificial reef sites, he said.
"We've been hit by all kinds of hurricanes in the Caribbean and everywhere else and we've never had any cases of them moving," he said.
Francesconi said the state does try to situate the memorial reefs among others to protect them from commercial trawling, which is legal in North Carolina waters.
The memorial reef balls going into the water in June will be part of the Yaupon Beach Reef, a 1,200-by-1,900-foot reef in 30-foot-deep water about 1 fi miles south of Oak Island, Francesconi said. The site already contains concrete pipe, bridge remnants and old barge and reef balls.
In deference to the families, exact coordinates of the memorial reef balls will not be published, Francesconi said. However, the sites will be open to any of the public who find them.
Concrete reef balls are an environmentally sound material for artificial reefs and Reef Ball Development Group has developed a pH neutral concrete formula that has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said.
The Division of Marine Fisheries is now completing a three-year study comparing reef balls with other artificial reef materials.
"They are outstanding," Francesconi said.
The state has, in the past, purchased reef balls, but they are considered a little pricey, Francesconi said. The state usually looks for free materials to use on artificial reefs, he said.
For more information on Eternal Reefs, visit www.eternalreefs.com or call (888) 423-7333.