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Just Put Me in a Reef Ball

The reef balls create habitat for sea life while memorializing loved ones.

The reef balls create habitat for sea life while memorializing loved ones.

Eternal Reefs, a non-profit organization creates specially designed concrete reef balls that give a modern-day twist to the ritual of burial at sea. These reef balls become a permanent environmental tribute to life, because that’s exactly what they are.

As part of a designated reef system, an Eternal Reef is created from individual reef balls made of environmentally safe and approved marine grade concrete that assimilates into the natural ocean environment. More than 2,000 have been placed in about 25 approved locations in Maryland, New Jersey, the Carolinas, Texas and Florida. The process is permitted through local, state and federal agencies.

The reef balls become permanent memorials to loved ones while creating habitat for marine life. Moreover, they are only placed on reef sites designated for development as recreational reefs for fishing and diving, an obvious benefit to our industry.

Based in Sarasota, Fla., Eternal Reefs provides the families with many options. The family can attend a “casting” ceremony that allows them to decorate their loved one’s reef ball with handprints and other memorabilia before the concrete sets. Participants usually choose to mix the cremated remains into the concrete. Many also add personalized messages into the concrete. Small, environmentally safe, personal mementos may also be included. And a small plaque is placed on the reef ball before it is submerged in one of the permitted locations.

Eternal Reefs is part of the Reef Ball family of companies that partner with the non-profit Reef Ball Foundation. The foundation has cultivated about 4,000 reefs in 55 countries. The formation of the Eternal Reefs organization can be traced to the late 1980s, when a pair of college roommates from the University of Georgia would go diving in the Florida Keys.

During his years of diving, Don Brawley, who founded Eternal Reefs, witnessed that reefs needed help and made a decision to do something about their declining health.

The balls are placed only in specific public reefs to be enjoyed by everyone. For families and individuals who choose cremation rather than burial, Brawley noted that Eternal Reefs offers an option that replaces cremation urns and ash scatterings with a permanent environmental living legacy.

During the process, families and friends are invited and encouraged to participate as much or as little with the creation of their loved one’s Eternal Reef. The entire Eternal Reefs process is a positive experience that is designed to help heal both the sea and soul.

Families are given a smaller version of the reef ball, made of concrete and not containing cremains, to decorate with flowers and throw over the side of the boat after the main reef ball is lowered.

Shelby Davis, general manager of Eternal Reefs, said the reef balls appeal to people who love the water. “It’s just a very upbeat type of memorial,” she said. “When you’re thinking about having that reef ball with all the fish swimming around it and all the sea vegetation growing on it, people really like that. They like giving back.”

As an avid boater and angler, learning about this living reef ball has been an eye-opener for me. And all of the grouper and snapper in my fishbox over the years, someday the fish could have their chance to look me over.

For now, I have only one concern. I told my wife, Kay, that a reef ball is definitely for me. I think she made an appointment for Thursday.

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