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Departed can become home for fish

By Scott Harper, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services
December 30, 2002

NORFOLK, Va. -- The family of the deceased gathered around a concrete truck. The daughter pulled out a Baggie containing cremated ashes.

"Ready, Dad?" she whispered into the bag.

With that farewell, Jennie Rogers Moore emptied her father's remains into a plain white pail, then mixed his ashes with a slew of wet concrete.

This was the scene last month at a new business in Norfolk, Sea Search of Virginia. In a parking lot off Church Street, John Grayson Rogers, an Eastern Shore fisherman and conservationist, became the first Virginian to be poured into a round mold and made into an "eternal reef ball."

In about a month, when the gray slurry fully hardens, this 1,600-pound sphere resembling a giant Whiffle ball will be dropped to the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. It will become part of an existing artificial reef near Nassawadox, Va., where Rogers lived most of his 76 years and will attract fish, oysters, marine growth, scuba divers -- and the occasional well-wisher.

Eternal reef balls are a modern alternative to cemeteries -- with a green twist. They are favored mostly by avid divers, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts who want to be "buried at sea" as well as contribute something to the marine environment they loved.

An Atlanta-based company, Eternal Reefs, started mixing human ashes and environmentally friendly concrete in 1998. About 125 memorial balls have been created since then, sunk mostly off Florida, South Carolina and Georgia.

Until November, none existed in Virginia.

"We're giving people something that's living, that's growing, that the family can come and visit," said company president Don Brawley, who attended the inaugural pouring.

The balls cost between $850 and $3,200 each, depending on the size. The Rogers family picked one of the larger models, a "pallet ball," 3 feet high and 4 feet wide.

A gold plaque was fixed to the side of the ball in Rogers' name, and each family member left a handprint in the top of wet concrete mix.

Reef balls were invented about 10 years ago as a way to restore coral reefs disappearing around the globe. The Reef Ball Development Group was launched in Florida and has since sunk nearly 500,000 spheres in oceans and freshwaters in 40 countries, said Todd Barbor, the founder and company president.



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