An Atlanta company wants to create a
memorial to the World Trade Center terrorist attack victims by
building an offshore reef designed to attract and shelter sea
life for hundreds of years to come.
"Some of the bodies will never be found or identified,"
said George Frankel, chief executive of Eternal Reefs Inc.
"I'm sure there will be a memorial at the World Trade Center
site, but it will probably be too painful for some of the
families to go back there. I feel we have something else to
For several years, Eternal Reefs has marketed an
alternative to traditional burials by mixing cremated remains
into large, environmentally friendly concrete reef balls.
The balls, marked with bronze plaques, are dropped in
approved locations on the ocean floor to help rebuild
deteriorating natural reefs or create new ones. The reef balls
do not need to incorporate actual remains. Clients can opt to
include a loved one's name on a reef-ball plaque as a lasting
Charges for the service vary, depending on the size of the
reef ball and whether it is dedicated to the memory of one or
more people. There would be no charge for terrorist attack
victims, Frankel said.
The rough-surface reef balls, pierced with portholes, are
designed to be
quickly colonized by marine corals and seaweed that in turn
attract a variety of fish, crabs and other sea life.
A Texas widow whose husband died almost 20 years ago is
among those who have purchased memorial reef balls. She sent
the cremated remains of her deceased husband, Lee Bryant, to
the company in March after reading about Eternal Reefs on the
"At the time of his death, we were living in Chicago and
had been married just three weeks and four days," wrote Lynne
Lamb Bryant. "Lee had told me that he wanted to be buried at
sea, but I learned that disposing of an entire body that way
was a very difficult procedure, complicated by my location in
relation to the coast."
Bryant wrote she was reluctant to scatter her husband's
ashes at sea because she wanted his remains to be kept
"Thank you for providing this creative option, one which
seems especially appropriate because you create a structure,
and Lee was an architect," she wrote.
The first memorial reef balls were cast May 1, 1998, for
Carleton Glen Palmer, a native Atlantan well-known as a
pianist, composer and arranger who played with the Atlanta
Symphony and with the Wits End Players. Palmer, diagnosed with
terminal cancer in the late 1990s, asked his son-in-law, Don
Brawley, a founder of the Florida-based Reef Ball Development
Group Inc., to put his cremated remains into one of the
"He told me he'd rather spend eternity with all that sea
life and excitement going on around him than in a field of
dead people," Brawley said. "He especially wanted to go
somewhere where there were a lot of snapper and grouper. I
took the ashes to Florida and put them in a load of concrete
that made a total of about 30 reef balls."
After the balls were dropped in the Gulf of Mexico near
Sarasota, Brawley said he got such a positive response from
people who heard the story that he and Frankel decided to form
Eternal Reefs as a companion company to the Reef Ball
Development Group. That company has deployed more than 100,000
of its igloo-shape structures at 1,500 reef sites all over the
world, including some in Georgia waters.
Frankel, 52, lives in Virginia-Highland; Brawley, 38, in
Avondale Estates, so they based their fledgling company here.
After getting approval for their project from the federal
Environmental Protection Agency, the two began notifying reef
coordinators around the United States that Eternal Reefs had
structures to donate to reef-building projects.
Since its founding, Eternal Reefs has deployed about 100 of
the memorial reef balls, some at three sites off the coast of
Florida. Others were used to create a new memorial reef off
the South Carolina coast near Charleston last month. Families
whose loved ones' remains were included in the Charleston
project took a charter boat to watch as the memorial reef
balls were dropped from a barge.
Brawley said it was a healing experience for the relatives.
"There were a lot of tears on the way out, but coming back
in, people were smiling," he said.
People often return to memorial reef sites, he said. The
heavy balls rarely move from where they are placed, even in
hurricane conditions, Brawley said. He and Frankel, both scuba
divers, say many of their customers like to dive on reefs that
include the remains of friends or family members.
"I've gotten to dive on Carleton's reef, and I got such a
sense of peace there," Brawley said.
The two said they have notified various authorities about
the possibility of donating their services to loved ones of
attack victims but have not yet gotten replies. Frankel, a
former Coast Guardsman in New York Harbor, watched the World
Trade Centers being built. He envisions a memorial reef off
the coast of New York.
"We think the families might be interested in having a
permanent living legacy to all the victims," he said.