By Catherine Colbert

For most people, there haven’t been many options for after-death care: traditional burial or cremation. But companies that have entered the death care industry in the past decade are making death arrangements more interesting — if not exactly a trip to the movies — to plan.

Photo: Eternal Reefs
A scubadiver inspects an Eternal Reef.

Consumers can now purchase urns emblazoned with the logo of their favorite Major League Baseball team, have a diamond made of cremated remains or send remains up into space. Naturally, the rising popularity of cremations eventually met up with the rising interest in green issues, and that inspired companies to develop new green, eco-minded ways to memorialize loved ones.

Eternal Reefs, an Atlanta-based firm, has developed a way to help rebuild oceans, creating new life from death, by using cremated remains to construct some of the artificial reefs it makes to help deteriorating reef barriers recover and thrive again.

Don Brawley, a former University of Georgia student, started Eternal Reefs in 1998 as the outgrowth of a related business that he started with friends with whom he had taken regular scuba diving trips to the Florida Keys.

Throughout the years, the group had become dismayed with the declining state of Florida’s reefs. Brawley, along with other divers and a handful of environmentalists, established the Reef Ball Development Group, which created a honeycombed-shaped Reef Ball using a patented mold system with an eco-friendly concrete formula. The Reef Ball was designed to be stable and encourage microorganisms to make it home and propagate on the reefs. The group later established Eternal Reefs as a sister company to serve as its memorialization unit catering to the death care industry.

Photo: Eternal Reefs
Families help cast and create the reefs.

Reef Balls are designed to last 500 years and withstand hurricanes. “We look at the ocean as a nutrient rich desert,” says George Frankel, who joined the company in early 2000 as its chief executive. “Trillions of little buds of life are floating around in the currents looking for something that is supportive of life to attach to and start to grow and propagate on. Reef balls are the only material that has been designed to replicate the natural substrata that microorganism would adhere to and start to develop. In addition to restoring existing reef systems, we can take entire sections of the sea floor that do not currently have sustainable substrata and create whole new environments and establish whole new fisheries.”

Since its first reef project near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Eternal Reefs has logged about 3,500 projects worldwide, placing more than 400,000 Reef Balls on the ocean floor. The company has created artificial reefs along the coasts of Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Virginia. Eternal Reefs plans to branch out into the Pacific Northwest and perhaps internationally, into Europe and Asia in the future.

Initially, Eternal Reefs was focused only on rebuilding reefs. “I did not originally identify with the death care side of what we were going to be doing,” says Frankel. “Reef Ball was doing an excellent job with both government projects and small scale school educational projects. What I saw was the opportunity to involve individuals and families with a sense of permanent ownership in the marine environment.”