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2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
30 September 2002 10:40 BDST
Home   > News  > World  > Environment

Coral blossoms with the secret of eternal life

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

29 September 2002

"Full fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made"

Shakespeare, of course, got there first, but now you can turn Ariel's song in The Tempest into concrete reality literally. An American firm, which prides itself on "thinking out of the box of traditional death care'', will turn your loved ones into coral reefs, giving them "a beachfront property for eternity''.

The company, Eternal Reefs, has already consigned the remains of more than 100 people into its environmentally friendly version of Davy Jones's Locker. It grew out of a firm that has been making artificial reefs for the past decade, sinking more than 100,000 concrete "reef balls'' (actually more like hollow domes with large holes in their sides) in 1,500 different places around the world.

Now, for around $3,200 (2,000), it will mix human ashes from cremations or "cremains'' as it likes to call them into the concrete for "ongoing reef development projects".

Amanda Leesburg, a director of the firm based in Georgia, Atlanta, said demand was steadily increasing. "The people who are interested are those who grew up near the ocean fishermen, members of the Navy, environmentalists and scuba divers. The concept is really taking off because plot space is running out and people are looking for alternative ways to get buried."

The company was begun by Don Brawley, who had the idea after his father-in-law, Carleton Palmer, decided he wanted to have his remains scattered at sea. Mr Brawley was already working for the Reef Ball Development Group along with his old schoolfriend, Todd Barber and he realised that the ash in the reef balls could be replaced with cremated remains: his father-in-law became the first human reef ball.

Two memorial reefs have been established off Florida and South Carolina. Demand is so great that another two were started this summer. The top price buys a 4ft-high, 6ft-wide, 4-ton ball, which "stands out as a pinnacle of the reef and attracts the large species of marine life''. You can cut the price by arranging to share it with up to three other "sets of remains''.

The bargain basement buys a place in a community reef, the size of two basketball courts. The company says: "Individuals who choose this option have their cremated remains mixed together and are cast as a complete reef system of multiple modules.''

The walls of the balls are made of 6in-thick concrete with "a special surface texture'' to attract soft corals, sponges, algae and barnacles to grow on them. They are designed to last 500 years.

Brass plaques are attached, though they are often soon buried by the reef life, and relatives are encouraged to visit by scuba diving. For the less active, the company is setting up a programme "to videotape the reefs as they mature, so everyone can see the positive effect that your loved one's reef contribution is making on the environment''.

It also promotes the scheme as "a spiritual and ecologically positive resting place''. Mr Brawley says that this offers "the ability to make a decision about our death which will positively impact the world after we are gone".

And Katherine Kirbo, executive director of the Reef Ball Foundation, said that it "allows the individual to become truly involved with the eco-systems of the oceans".

Also from the Environment section.

Global warming forces Inuits to abandon swamped homes
Ozone hole to start shrinking and will close in 50 years, say scientists
'Disastrous' GM crops have cost US economy 8bn, study claims
Wildlife under threat as ship leaks oil        
The world's sexiest animal is revealed

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