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Manufacturer of ocean reefs offers a grave in eternal sea
Burial: A company mixes cremated remains in concrete 'reef balls' that serve as habitat and as a living memorial to loved ones.
Sun Staff
Originally published June 12, 2004
Ocean City - As a final resting place, this couldn't be more perfect for Arthur Miller Jr., who spent virtually every summer of his adult life at the beach.

The former Howard County roads superintendent died of a heart attack three years ago at 64. Now he will spend eternity in the waters near the resort. Next week his ashes, along with those of a half-dozen others, will become part of an artificial reef about five miles southeast of here.


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"This kind of memorial is fantastic," Donna Jo Kauffman, Miller's daughter, said yesterday. "My father always wanted to be buried at sea. We spent every vacation I can remember in Ocean City. This was a place he loved so much."

The concept began in 1998 with an Atlanta company called Eternal Reefs, which mixes cremated remains in concrete "reef balls" that weigh from 400 to 4,000 pounds. They are designed with pock marks and holes to mimic coral reefs to provide habitat for fish and other sea life.

Six reef balls containing the remains of seven people are ready here for their trip to sea - but yesterday, they sat on a barge tied up at the commercial dock, held in port by 20 mph winds and seas with swells as high as 7 feet. Next week, whenever calmer weather allows, the memorials will be taken to the 35-foot-deep reef site.

Family members, some from as far away as Florida, climbed aboard a 65-foot head boat yesterday to make the 90-minute trip to the reef site for a memorial service of sorts.

Several passengers got seasick, but no one complained that the dedication ceremony was conducted with small replicas of the reef balls. Relatives threw flowers overboard, too.

For Janet Matthews and Judith Marsh, the ceremony was a way to remember their parents, George Marsh Jr. and Arlyne Marsh, and their brother, George Marsh III, who died in 1986 at age 27. His ashes were scattered in the ocean after his death.

"Our father was 80 when he died back in January; our mother died in 1999 and we had already decided to place their ashes together," said Judith Marsh, of Easton. "A friend saw something about Eternal Reefs on [television] and it seemed to fit. We had thought to scatter their ashes somewhere in the Chesapeake. This way, they will have some marker."

Company founder Donald Brawley of Atlanta said he hit upon the idea in the same way many customers have made the decision - trying to think of the best way to accommodate the wishes of a late relative. His father-in-law, Carlton "Petey" Palmer, an avid fisherman, wanted to be cremated and buried at sea, "anywhere there are grouper and red snapper."

"I was already involved in a company that was creating artificial reef habitats and that is still our idea - not to create underwater cemeteries but to create reefs," Brawley said. "This is a way to use private money for reefs that can be beneficial to the public. People like the idea of giving something back to the environment."

So far, 250 to 300 people have been memorialized in reefs off the coasts of Virginia, Florida, Texas, Georgia and South Carolina. The cost ranges from $1,000 to share a memorial to about $5,000 for families who want an individual reef ball.

Reef balls have been used around the world, built for nonprofit foundations interested in aquatic ecology or improving sport fishing, but Brawley says Eternal Reefs has no competition in creating memorials.

The nonprofit Ocean City Artificial Reef Foundation, which has sunk everything from old warships to broken concrete to Army tanks off the Maryland coast, embraced the Eternal Reefs proposal immediately.

"We're talking about nice concrete structures that will last a long, long time and they're designed specifically as habitat," said Greg Hall, who heads the foundation. "It was a win-win situation for the company, the families and us."

Barbara and Steve Griffin said cremation and some alternative type of memorial made sense for their parents, Payton and Lucille Griffin. When their father died two months ago, the family decided the couple's ashes should be buried at sea.

"Some people just can't seem to comprehend anything other than a traditional burial in a cemetery," said Barbara Griffin. "But most people we talked to thought it was innovative."


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