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Reef-ball 'burials' aid in restoration of marine habitats


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. . . ey's father-in-law, Carleton Palmer, said he'd like to be cremated and have his remains mixed in one of the reef balls.

"He said he'd rather spend eternity down there with all that life going on than stuck in a field with a bunch of dead people," Brawley said. Months later, Palmer died of cancer and Brawley complied with his wishes, making the first Eternal Reef.

As he told friends about his father-in-law's unique resting place, others expressed interest in doing the same and Eternal Reefs Inc. was born. The remains of snorkelers, anglers, environmentalists and a Navy diver with his dog are now entombed in the reefs.

Brawley said the reefs, which start at about $1,000, help families work through their grief and restore the coastal habitat at no cost to the government.

Families who choose a reef memorial begin by coming to the plant in Sarasota to mix their loved ones' remains in the concrete and pour it into a reef ball-shaped mold. Families must provide their own transportation and lodging to the reef site. It takes about a month for the concrete to be ready for placement in the water.

Barbara Jack, 45, of Valley Forge, Pa., said the other families making reefs were "an unexpected comfort." Her 54-year-old husband, Lloyd, died while waiting for a lung transplant. Before he died he asked that his remains be put in an Eternal Reef, a fitting resting place for the owner of a concrete business who loved to dive in the Caribbean.

Barbara Jack and the other families returned to Sarasota last month to say goodbye and watch the 20 reefs go into the ocean.

They held a viewing, including military honors for Lloyd Jack, a Vietnam veteran, and four others. The next day the reefs were taken out to sea on a barge. A crane lowered them into the water while the families watched from two boats and threw flowers into the water.

"It was the most wonderful experience," Barbara Jack said. "It is so reassuring that I know he is where he loved to be the most, with his fish."

Justin Pierce's father, Matthew, had trouble holding the video camera still as he sobbed when his son's reef dipped below the water. Justin, who was born in Sarasota, died four years ago and the Pierces said they felt as if they were bringing him home. His parents, who now live in Orlando, say they plan to get their Scuba diving certification so they can visit Justin's reef and watch it grow.

"Even if we're just standing on the shore,
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Last modified: November 08. 2004 12:00AM