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"Green" Burial: From Ashes To Reef

If you want to help the Chesapeake Bay in the afterlife, or forever be part of the memories from Baltimore's historic Memorial Stadium, a Georgia company has a burial option you may want to consider.

Eternal Reefs Inc., based in Decatur, Ga., mixes cremated remains into concrete used to make so-called reef balls that it places at sites along the East Coast, a service it markets as an environmentally friendly and less-expensive alternative to traditional burials.

Of course, those interested in helping build a reef don't have to wait until they die, said Eternal Reefs CEO George Frankel.

"Not at all, but when you do, it is a great way to help the bay," Frankel said.

The concept developed from reef-building efforts by the Reef Ball Foundation, which has placed more than a half-million of the concrete domes worldwide. Many want to mark a birth or other special occasion, while others simply want to foster underwater life. A memorial reef ball costs between $2,495 and $6,495, although the cost of cremation is not included, he said.

The Chesapeake Bay site where eight of the memorials were placed earlier this month, for example, already has about 600 put there by a variety of groups and organizations above the rubble from Memorial Stadium, the former home of the Baltimore Orioles.

The burial service is one of a growing number of funeral alternatives ranging from having your ashes launched into space, compressed into a diamond or buried in a biodegradable urn. In the waters off Miami, the Neptune Memorial Reef offers an underwater burial place for cremated remains, as well as an attraction for divers who can swim among its gates, paths and statuary.

Other companies offer burials in cardboard coffins designed to quickly decompose, and the Swedish company Promessa is developing a freeze-drying method that turns the body to powder.

Sylvia Rennick of Kings Mountain, N.C., said the idea of her son's memorial helping the Chesapeake Bay appealed to her more than a traditional cemetery plot.

"You're around live things, it's not all dead," Rennick said before her son's memorial was lowered by crane onto the reef under sunny skies as family members threw flowers into the bay and read poems.

Afterward, she said the crew gave another of her sons the chart location of the site and he planned to visit it when he went fishing.

"He said, 'I'll come out and say hello to him occasionally and drop a flower,'" Rennick said.

He may want to linger. The igloo-shaped hemispheres have holes that keep them from being moved by the tides, and provide habitat for fish.

Doris Ricketts of St. Leonard, who placed a memorial at the site for her husband, Theodore, said he did not know about the service before he died but he was a great supporter of the bay and would have been pleased.

"It's just a great idea, it truly is, just a great idea and I'm going to do the same," Ricketts said.

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