Coral Reef Burials: Everything You Need to Know


Pat yourself on the back if you want to contribute to the world after your death. There are a few options, and the most well-known choice is donating your body to science. Not interested? That’s okay.

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Believe it or not, you can also decide to be buried at sea — no, not in a naval disaster or sinking ship tragedy.

Opt for a coral reef burial, a marriage of traditional cremation and sea burial. The idea is that your ashes will help the formation of coral reefs and will allow you to contribute to vibrant marine ecosystems long after your death. Here’s everything you need to know about coral reef burial.

What’s a Coral Reef Burial?

Coral reef burials stemmed from a diver’s father-in-law’s wishes to be buried at sea. The diver had been creating concrete reef balls to help curb reef degradation and the negative impact on marine environments and decided to incorporate this idea with his father-in-law’s death.

The diver mixed his father-in-law’s ashes with concrete, which was shaped into a reef ball and sunk into the Atlantic Ocean. Coral reefs then shaped around the solid concrete structure and the idea for coral reef burials was born.

There are some obvious drawbacks to this method of burial, as you might imagine. For one, unlike family and friends being able to visit your headstone in a cemetery, it’s hard to revisit the exact spot at sea unless you plan to dive underwater to get there. 

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How Reef Burials Work

The process of coral reef cremation begins once you choose a suitable cremation option. Flameless cremation and traditional cremation are both available. Once your body has been cremated and your ashes safely stored, the process begins. Some companies offer to videotape the process from start to finish. This can give you peace of mind and accountability if you’re worried about your loved one’s ashes. 

Environmentally-safe concrete is cast into the shape of a huge, hollow ball between 400 and 800 pounds — it’s hollow to prevent movement during major storms and to ensure that it rests on the ocean floor. It’s important to find the right company to cast the concrete ball. 

A great resource may be the Reef Ball Foundation. The Reef Ball Foundation’s priority is to rehabilitate the environment by creating artificial coral reefs. Its environmental work extends to coral reef creation, restoring estuaries, and controlling erosion. Part of the Reef Ball Foundation’s efforts is to partner with a variety of reef ball burial companies. It focuses on environmental responsibility and that’s reflected by the companies it chooses to partner with. 

The Reef Ball Foundation also allows you diverse burial options. Some companies are limited by location. For instance, they might only conduct reef ball burials off the Florida coast. Companies that have an alliance with this nonprofit foundation often have a wider reach. 

The process continues once you’ve found the right company to create a concrete cast. Your ashes will be added while the concrete is being mixed. The concrete ball can be personalized after it’s poured and family members and friends can leave messages or handprints in the wet concrete before it solidifies. 

A brass medallion can be installed in some concrete ball creations. This includes similar information to a traditional headstone — name, dates, and a tagline. 

Once the reef ball is created, you’ll need a boat to carry it out to sea. Many reef ball burial companies offer comprehensive services. This can include casting the concrete, ensuring legal sinking areas in the ocean, and taking the reef ball out to sea. They also offer other options: They may conduct services on the boat or can also drop the reef ball without anyone else present, too. If you choose to take advantage of these services, there’s no need to look for other resources. 

However, your chosen company might not offer the last stages of the process. There are other options in this case. Professional mariners who work in this field are experienced and knowledgeable about the laws. Some are even able to provide a highly precise GPS location of your loved one’s remains after the ball has been sunk. This makes visiting the site possible later on in the future. 

As you search for professional mariners to conduct this final stage, look for those affiliated with memorial reef companies. That way, you can feel confident that they have the experience they need and that you require for the process to run smoothly. 

Checking out service options before you hire a boat is crucial. What kind of memorial would you like to have? If you’d prefer a service on the boat, full of family and friends, some companies offer that. 

Others do not, and employees will be the only ones present when the reef ball is put into the ocean. Carefully envisioning your memorial service is a great idea. Consider the need for family members to find closure and how that can be taken into account, too. 

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Cost of a Coral Reef Burial

Coral reef burials are different from other types of burial or cremation. Rather than paying for a plot of land, a headstone, or someone to dig the grave, your options are a bit more limited — and potentially more complicated.

Cremation costs can range and is a complete option on its own. Once your cremation plans are complete, transport from the funeral home to the ocean will cost you. 

Deciding how large you want your reef ball is important. Costs range from $4,000 to $7,500 and depend on size. A smaller reef ball could accommodate your ashes alone. However, a large size would allow loved ones to be “buried” with you. Entire families could be buried together on a larger reef ball, which might be important to you.

It’s also great to consider other items that may add up. What kind of service would you like when your reef ball is cast into the ocean? Does the company you’re working with charge to take family and friends out on a boat?

Carefully envision how your funeral will look and your family and friends will benefit from the prep work you’ve done so that no surprise costs pop up. Shop around and communicate with companies you’re considering to ensure you get what you want. 

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Do They Actually Help the Environment?

It’s no secret that coral reefs are being destroyed faster than they can be rebuilt. Dynamite fishing, careless tourism practices, pollution, and reef bleach all destroy the habitat of countless organisms. 

Coral reefs are crucial to marine environments as a supportive habitat for ecosystems and marine life, as a nutrient recycler, and are a barrier between coastlines and damaging waves. 

Sinking concrete barriers into the ocean has become more common as a way to assist ecosystem structures since coral will naturally grow on this structure. It speeds up the process of coral reef growth and provides a fast track to mature reefs where fish can spawn and mature. 

Traditional burials have a massive effect on the environment. Tons of metal, wood, and embalming fluids are placed in the earth each year. Cremation takes a significant amount of energy and pumps greenhouse gases into the environment. A reef ball has many benefits and offers a no-harm environmental approach. 

It’s important to note that coral reef cremation is not a green burial option. Both share environmental priorities, but green burials involve land preservation and care. Reef ball burials contribute to marine ecosystems and don’t actually count as green burials. 

Opting for a Reef Burial

As you contemplate your end-of-life planning options, a desire to contribute to life after death is a great idea. Donating your body to science may seem too invasive for your tastes. If that’s the case, a reef ball burial may be a well-chosen decision. By supporting the growth of vibrant marine ecosystems, you’re promoting environmental balance. 

It’s important to account for one facet of coral reef cremation: Many environmentalists are concerned about emissions caused by cremation, so note that coral reef cremation does negatively impact the environment in some ways. 

If you have an emotional connection to the sea, the idea of being buried there might be comforting. Work to minimize the impact of your funeral options and negatively contributing to the environment and a reef ball burial could be a perfect choice.

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