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Become one with the ocean after you die

A scuba diver explores a well-established manmade coral reef

Coral growing from a reef ball, creating a vital underwater eco-system. All photos courtesy of Eternal Reefs, www.eternalreefs.com, and the Reef Ball Foundation, www.reefball.org.

The phrase ‘watery grave’ may be taking on a new, more positive meaning. If you’re looking for a special way to be remembered, new innovations are allowing you to become part of ocean life after death.

Increasingly, people are looking for meaningful ways to be laid to rest after they die. Whether it’s opting for a natural burial, turning ashes into diamonds, or having a commemmorative fireworks display, it seems that Australians are embracing ways to make their last goodbye a special and personalised affair.

While ‘burial at sea’ is an ancient idea, there’s a new way to become part of the ocean that could actually save marine life and preserve precious coral reefs. What could be a better legacy than helping to save the ocean?

A scuba diver inspects coral growing from a reef ball Beautiful natural coral grows from a reef ball, providing a perfect habitat for all kinds of sea life.

Scientists estimate that up to nine million species of plants and animals rely on coral reefs to survive, either as a place to live, hunt or breed. However, in recent years, marine biologists have been desperately trying to save natural coral reefs around the world, which are under threat from overfishing, pollution and climate change.

Already a quarter of the world’s reefs are considered damaged beyond repair, with two thirds of those remaining considered under threat. The Great Barrier Reef, considered to be the most biodiverse World Heritage Site on the planet, has been severely hit by coral bleaching, destroying its natural ecosystems. In the northern sector alone, around 80% of the coral is classified as severely bleached.

But where there is disaster, there are hard-working people trying to save nature’s wonders. Scientists and engineers have invented manmade reefs that give natural coral the perfect base upon which to thrive.

These round-shaped ‘reef balls’ mimic nature’s design as closely as possible. The ball is made from environmentally-safe cast concrete, with a rough textured surface to encourage marine microorganisms to take hold and begin cultivating life. Once these tiny organisms are established, the artificial reef will begin to flourish with life, including natural corals, crustaceans and fish.

A boat with a crane lowers reef balls into the sea Reef balls are carefully placed in specific ocean locations to cultivate new coral reefs.

One company, the US-based Eternals Reefs, allows cremation ashes to be incorporated into these concrete reefs, giving people a way to become one with the vibrant underwater life that thrives in the coral ecosystem.

Families are invited to attend and be as involved as they’d like in the casting and viewing of the finished reef ball. Many choose to put handprints and other memorabilia in the damp concrete and make rubbings of the memorial plaque.

The family can also board a boat and watch as their loved one’s reef ball is placed in the ocean. They watch as the concrete dome is lowered into the water, where it will find its place forever on the seabed. Designed to withstand tidal currents and powerful ocean storms, the reef ball is quickly populated by underwater inhabitants and can have meaningful growth in as little as three months.

After the reef ball is placed, families cast flowers into the sea and say their final goodbyes. Though visiting the reef ball again might be impossible unless you’re an accomplished scuba diver, the family can find comfort in the fact that their loved one has become part of a beautiful, thriving ecosystem.

For more information on coral reef memorials, visit www.eternalreefs.com.

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