Think­ing Out­side the Box

Bonita & Estero Magazine - - CON­TENTS - “Peo­ple tell us all the time that they want to ‘give back,’” says Frankel. “Eter­nal Reefs of­fers them a way to do just that, as the con­tri­bu­tion they make ben­e­fits both present and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.” Glenn Os­tle lives in Char­lotte, North Carolina, and i

Like many things in so­ci­ety, at­ti­tudes to­ward death and buri­als are chang­ing.

While many peo­ple still pre­fer a tra­di­tional fu­neral, there’s a grow­ing trend to­ward cre­ma­tion, which, ac­cord­ing to the Cre­ma­tion As­so­ci­a­tion of North Amer­ica, ac­counted for more than half of all buri­als in the United States for the first time in 2016.

But what to do with those cre­mated re­mains—or cre­mains— beyond as­sign­ing them to a shelf or closet?

One Sara­sota-based com­pany of­fers an in­no­va­tive way to im­mor­tal­ize loved ones, and at the same time ben­e­fit fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, by com­bin­ing cre­mains with ar­ti­fi­cial reefs that are placed in per­mit­ted ocean lo­ca­tions to cre­ate new habi­tats for sea life.

“I like to say that we are pi­o­neer­ing a so­cial change through ‘con­ser­va­tion memo­ri­al­iza­tion,’” says Ge­orge Frankel, CEO and owner of Eter­nal Reefs, a com­pany with roots dat­ing back nearly 20 years.

In the late ’80s, a pair of col­lege room­mates from the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia came up with the idea of sink­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly hol­low struc­tures full of holes to help re­ha­bil­i­tate and re­build Florida’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing reefs. Their “reef balls” repli­cated the nat­u­ral marine en­vi­ron­ment and at­tracted micro­organ­isms, those lit­tle buds of life float­ing in the cur­rents look­ing for a home.

Fish be­gan to show up as soon as the reef balls were set in place, and de­pend­ing on wa­ter con­di­tions, coral and sponge growth be­gan in as lit­tle as a few weeks. The Reef Ball De­vel­op­ment Group was born.

“The reef ball was a bril­liant idea,” says Frankel. “It had to be sta­ble and work with Mother Nature. The an­swer was a rounded de­sign com­posed of a pH-neu­tral con­crete for­mula.”

In 1992, the Reef Ball De­vel­op­ment Group and Reef Ball Foun­da­tion com­pleted the first reef ball project near Fort Laud­erdale. Since then, more than 4,000 projects in more than 70 coun­tries have placed more than 700,000 reef balls on the ocean floor. To­day they are the world stan­dard for fish­eries pro­grams, coral restora­tion and habi­tat de­vel­op­ment projects.

In 1998, the fa­ther-in-law of Don Braw­ley, one of the orig­i­nal de­vel­op­ers of the reef ball, passed away. It was his wish to have his cre­mated re­mains placed in a reef ball, say­ing, “I can think of noth­ing bet­ter than hav­ing all that ac­tion go­ing on around me af­ter I am gone.”

Braw­ley mixed his fa­ther-in-law’s cre­mains into a spe­cial “me­mo­rial” reef and added it to a group of orig­i­nal reef balls be­ing placed on Sil­ver­tooth Reef in Sara­sota. The pop­u­lar­ity of the idea led to the found­ing of Eter­nal Reefs Inc., which to date has placed more than 1,800 me­mo­rial reefs in 20 lo­ca­tions off the coasts of Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mary­land, New Jersey, Texas and Vir­ginia.

The me­mo­rial reefs are placed in lo­ca­tions des­ig­nated for recre­ational fish­ing and div­ing or for habi­tat de­vel­op­ment, per­mit­ted by fed­eral, state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments. The largest “green me­mo­rial” in the U.S. is in Sara­sota, where sev­eral hun­dred me­mo­rial reefs have been ded­i­cated.

On Jan­uary 1, 2017, Eter­nal Reefs be­came a not-for-profit

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea ... we are go­ing back from whence we came.” —Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy

or­ga­ni­za­tion op­er­at­ing un­der the name The Ge­n­e­sis Reef Project dba (do­ing busi­ness as) Eter­nal Reefs.

Me­mo­rial reefs come in three sizes, the largest of which can ac­com­mo­date up to four sets of cre­mains and is fre­quently used for spouses and other fam­ily mem­bers to be to­gether.

“We can also in­clude pets at no charge,” says Frankel. “This is a pop­u­lar op­tion, and we have ac­tu­ally in­cluded as many as 15 pets in a sin­gle Eter­nal Reef.”

From cast­ing of a me­mo­rial reef to fi­nal place­ment takes four days. Eter­nal Reefs en­cour­ages fam­i­lies and friends to par­tic­i­pate in the process. The com­pany also re­lies on lots of lo­cal vol­un­teers, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the Sara­sota Par­rot Head Club.

On day one, cre­mains are mixed with con­crete and placed into a mold to cre­ate what is called a Pearl, which then cures overnight. Mean­while, a fresh layer of con­crete is added to the top of the reef ball it­self, which friends and fam­ily are en­cour­aged to adorn with hand prints, writ­ten mes­sages and small me­men­tos. On the sec­ond day, the Eter­nal Reefs staff sets the Pearl in place and makes fi­nal prepa­ra­tions. A bronze plaque with the loved one’s name is mounted on the reef ball.

Day three is for fam­ily and friends to view the fin­ished reef, take photos, make rub­bings of the plaque and write fi­nal good­byes and tributes in­side and out. This is also the time when a mil­i­tary ser­vice for vet­er­ans can be held if re­quested.

“Par­ents tell us all the time that the me­mo­rial reef con­cept is a great way to in­tro­duce a child to a loss,” says Frankel. “It is more an arts and crafts project than it is a fu­neral.”

The me­mo­rial reef is placed in the ocean on day four while the in­di­vid­ual’s name is read. Then the fam­ily is given an op­por­tu­nity to ded­i­cate the reef site to their loved one. The ex­ecu­tor of the es­tate re­ceives the ex­act lon­gi­tude and lat­i­tude of the me­mo­rial.

For those in­ter­ested in plan­ning for their me­mo­rial reef, the com­pany has part­nered with an in­sur­ance com­pany so in­di­vid­u­als can en­sure that their wishes will be fol­lowed, and paid for, af­ter their death.

Mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, fish­er­men, sailors, divers and peo­ple who have loved the sea all their lives can be com­forted by the thought of be­ing sur­rounded by all that life and ac­tion go­ing on around them.

Fam­ily and friends are part of the process of cre­at­ing the me­mo­rial reef, and then they gather for the ded­i­ca­tion of the reef site to their loved one.

Made at Eter­nal Reef's Sara­sota fa­cil­ity, each me­mo­rial reef can be per­son­al­ized with dec­o­ra­tions and a brass name plate (above) be­fore be­ing placed un­der­wa­ter.

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