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Largely unexplored, the world’s oceans are home to an array of wonders, including long-forgotten pieces of history, curious creatures, and now, underwater memorials for departed loved ones. Incorporating cremated remains into artificially made reef balls, Florida-based Eternal Reefs transforms death into a new beginning.
In 1998, an ailing Carleton Palmer expressed a desire to be buried at sea. Following his death that same year, Palmer’s son-in-law Don Brawley honored his request by mixing the man’s ashes into the material of a reef ball, an artificial reef made of marine-friendly concrete used to create habitats for marine and freshwater species. Brawley’s innovative burial method captured the attention and imaginations of others concerned about what would become of their remains, prompting the birth of Eternal Reefs.
Ironically, it was their shared goal to preserve and promote life which led co-founders and diving buddies Brawley and Todd Barber into the burial business. Confronted with the rapid deterioration of Florida’s coastal reefs, the pair began developing reef balls in an effort to encourage growth in the area. Reef balls, which replicate the substrata of naturally occurring reefs, are hollow, vented, and constructed from specially made concrete, enabling them to serve as ideal homes for micro-organisms to “land, burrow in, and mature and start to propagate before predators can feed on them.” Through the Reef Ball family, to which Eternal Reefs belongs, Brawley and Barber have supported the marine life of more than 70 countries by contributing over 700,000 reef balls.
Of this total, approximately 1,800 are memorial reef balls, but given the rising popularity of green and conservation burial practices, this number is expected to grow. Increased attention to humans’ relationship with the environment has come to naturally extend to one’s posthumous footprint. Offering a selection of three sizes of reef balls, the largest of which can accommodate the remains of multiple individuals, including those of furry family members, Eternal Reefs is a modern burial option for eco-friendly families.
With families and friends in mind, Eternal Reefs encourages surviving loved ones to take part in its unique burial process. As it invites families to personalize the reef ball with handprints and messages imprinted in the wet concrete, decorate miniature tribute reefs with fresh flowers, and take to the sea to witness the memorial’s final placement, the company affords survivors the opportunity to shape the sendoff of their loved ones.
The reef balls can weigh anywhere from 650 to 4,000 pounds, guaranteeing they stay put on the ocean’s floor. Drawing on their love of diving, Eternal Reef’s founders take care to set every ball with a personalized brass plaque so that sea-savvy survivors may visit their loved ones and the new marine life they’ve helped make possible.