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Posted on Mon, Aug. 05, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Decatur business using cremated remains to repair, create coral reefs

Telegraph Staff Writer

Luca Brasi isn't the only one who sleeps with the fishes.

The famed bodyguard of Mario Puzo's "The Godfather" bought his one-way ticket to the bottom of the sea following a mob hit, but now you can rest there, too - and by personal choice.

Ask the folks at Eternal Reef. The Decatur-based company will deposit your remains on the bottom of the ocean for a fee, and while marking your eternal slumber among the fishes, you'll help build new coral reefs.

Looking like oversized golf balls, the reef balls are made of concrete and deposited on the Atlantic Ocean's bottom to build new artificial reefs or to repair damaged reefs. Reefs are an important habitat for many fish, mussels, coral and shellfish.

But the concrete mixture used in these structures includes cremated human remains.

Since the early 1990s, the company has placed reef balls around the nation to create new reefs, said Don Brawley, the company's president. But it wasn't until Brawley's father-in-law died that human remains were used.

"In 1998, my father-in-law came over for dinner and said, 'When I pass away, I want to be cremated, and I want you to put my remains in a reef ball,' " Brawley said. "He passed away a few months later, and I did it as a personal thing for him. All of a sudden, everyone was interested."

Take Brooks Binder III, an Atlanta lawyer who couldn't decide how to memorialize his father's cremated remains.

"My father died in 1996 with the idea we'd spread his ashes some place," Binder said. "But we didn't have any firm plans. Time went by and we became more anxious to do something."

This spring, Binder and his sister added their father's remains to a reef ball - deemed appropriate because their father loved to scuba dive.

Binder and his sister, along with about 40 other families using Eternal Reefs' services boarded a boat near Sarasota, Fla., and headed to sea. To lighten the moment, families were given children's sidewalk chalk to write their final sentiments on the reef balls. From there, the structures were lowered to the ocean floor for their final resting place.

"It was a touching moment," Binder said. "And knowing he's down there, I may take up scuba diving."

Most of the reef balls are deposited along the Atlantic coast in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida because of the sandy ocean floor - an attribute for building good reefs. Georgia's muddy bottom doesn't work well, said George Frankel, the company's CEO.

For about 30 years, Sarasota County has had an artificial reef program, and works with Eternal Reefs, said Mike Solum, the county's artificial reef coordinator.

"We've created the reefs for fishing and diving opportunities, and historically, we've used materials of opportunity: boxcars, old boats and barges, concrete culverts," Solum said. "Since 1995, we've been using the reef balls, which is not a new concept, but it works very well."

Previous projects Brawley and Frankel led were paid for with federal, state and local government funds, Solum said. Now Eternal Reefs creates new reefs through private funding.

Families have four size options, ranging in weight from a couple hundred pounds to about 4,000 pounds. Prices range from $850 to $3,200.

Each size works fine as a home for fish and plants, Solum said.

Because the company isn't involved in the cremation process, it isn't regulated under funeral and burial laws. The Environmental Protection Agency has permitted the company to use human remains for reef production.

Eternal Reefs has deposited 75 reef balls with human remains and will drop another 15 Tuesday.

By October, more than 100 balls with human remains will be on the ocean bottom, Frankel said.

"Everyone involved is a winner," he said. "Families get their closure and a place to go and visit, and the states get reef development that everyone can enjoy and benefit from."

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