Demand for 'Eternally Environmental' Options on the Rise
By George Frankel
CEO, Eternal Reefs, Inc.
Members of America's aging population have one thing in common - they like
to be treated as individuals. Those 50 and older, including the nearly 80
million Baby Boomers, have and share with others their distinct opinions on
just about everything - from the environment to the economy to the
The resulting trend of expressing ones' self in every aspect of life is,
interestingly enough, beginning to have a real impact on the death care
industry. The over-50 population has revealed a tendency toward choosing
death care options that express their uniqueness and, increasingly, their
concern for the environment. More and more, they are searching for
alternative, environmentally sensitive services that allow them and their
parents to leave a permanent living legacy.
At the same time, increased ecological and financial sensitivities are
leading more people to choose cremation. According to the Cremation
Association of North America, the percentage of individuals cremated in the
United States has risen to 25% and is expected to double within the next 25
The process of cremation applies heat and dehydration to reduce the body to
its basic elements. Cremation is viewed by many as the most environmentally
sound memorial option since cremated remains, or 'cremains', take up little
valuable land space or provide great flexibility for those who have no
desire to be buried in a cemetery. Creative means of burial, such as being
scattered into the roots of a newly planted tree or memorialized in a
painting, are possible through cremation.
An alternative cremation option, known as the memorial Reef Ball, is gaining
considerable interest as an ecologically positive final resting place.
The original reef ball concept originated with a group of avid divers who
were troubled by the worsening condition of the seas' and oceans' natural
reef formations. Reef ecosystems, which are home to over 4,000 different
species of fish, 700 species of coral and thousands of other plants and
animals, have experienced trauma and depletion over the past several decades
due to increased excessive domestic and agricultural pollution, over use of
reef resources and poor land use. Nearly 10% of the world's reefs are
already beyond recovery and an additional 30% are likely to experience
significant decline within the next 20 years.
The company formed by these divers, Reef Ball Development Group Ltd. (RBDG),
patented the creation of environmentally friendly concrete reef modules
that, when deployed into water, create new marine habitats for fish and
other sea life. Since their inception, over 500,000 reef balls constructed in 3,200 projects and 50 countries worldwide...to each last more than 500 years have been deployed worldwide.
The concept of turning the reef ball into a memorial came from a personal
request. Carl Palmer, father-in-law of RBDG co-founder Don Brawley, was an
avid scuba diver and fan of the difference RBDG was making for future
generations. Carl told Don of his wish to have his cremated remains put into
a reef ball and deployed into the ocean. As he put it, "I can think of
nothing better than having all that action going on around me all the time
after I am gone - just make sure the location has lots of red snapper and
Don carried out this wish and thought others may have the same desire. Thus,
the concept of memorial reef balls and the basis for Eternal Reefs Inc. were
Eternal Reefs now offers families the opportunity to memorialize their loved
ones in a way that makes a contribution to the environment. To date, the
ashes of nearly 100 people have been incorporated into reef balls and
deployed off the coasts of Florida and South Carolina. Memorial reefs are
placed in government-permitted locations, can be accessed through snorkeling
or scuba diving and create new reef systems in areas of highest ecological
A memorial plaque is incorporated into the reef and families receive a
certificate that includes the exact location of the deployed reef for future
visits. In addition, private funeral services can be arranged in which a
boat is chartered so family and loved ones can witness the deployment.
Services are currently expanding to offer photographs and video tapes of the
reefs as they grow.
The memorial reef, while still unique, is catching the attention of the
public and the industry. In fact, a recent article in the Washington Post
("My Green Heaven", March 20, 2002") regarding alternative environmentally
focused burial dispositions drew overwhelmingly positive comments from
readers such as:
"What a wonderful idea! Both my wife and I have decided to be cremated when
we die, and to have our ashes placed into a Reef Ball is just icing on the
cake. We both love the outdoors and are concerned about environmental and
conservation issues, so this fits our ideals perfectly."
"I think the reef burials are a great idea. I like the thought of my death
actually helping to create life. After reading this article, I will
definitely look into the reef burial for myself."
"I think this is a marvelous idea, much more ecologically sound to put only
ashes into the earth instead of full bodies which do nothing more than take
up more land. It's important to return what we can to the earth in the most
ecologically sound way."
Each day I am further buoyed by the stories of people who hear about the
memorial reef option and instantly know it is the right choice for them.
Further education will increase awareness of this and other environmentally
sensitive forms of burial. The end result will be, not just greater
awareness, but increased selection of these 'greener' memorial option and,
ultimately, an entire population that gives back to the environment not just
in life but in death.