4 September 2010

The Neptune Memorial Reef – An Under Sea Cemetery

When you think of dead people, concrete and underwater, you might be forgiven if your mind produces images of mafia gangsters and of their victims swimming with the fishes.  All that has changed - in the future what might spring to mind is a remarkable new underwater cemetery.

Off the coast of Miami in Florida a new reef is forming. It is not, however, the result of nature playing its course but the bi-product of people’s desire to have a last resting place which is both unusual and creates a new ecosystem. This is a cemetery under the sea, the Neptune Memorial Reef.

The first of its kind on earth, the Neptune Memorial Reef takes the concept of a burial at sea to a new level. Forty five feet below the waves the cemetery follows a traditional pattern – it even has its own gates. You find plaques, statues, pathways and even benches on which the weary visitor can rest a while. The only difference to your average cemetery is that visitors will have to wear a wet suit to visit the final resting place of their nearest and dearest.

The cemetery covers over six hundred thousand square feet and is fast becoming (as nature does it work) the world’s largest man made reef. It is developing in to a new ecosystem – a home for a huge variety of marine life and is also attracting scuba divers looking for a different underwater experience.

The primary idea was to create a Lost City of Atlantis off the coast of Florida but as costs spiralled a more profitable goal had to be found and so the idea of a memorial park was mooted and adopted. It still resembles a lost city (which covers 16 acres) but gives those wanting a watery grave a new option. Instead of ashes scattered on the waves you can now adopt for a more permanent place underneath them.

As you can imagine, the lion monuments are about the most expensive memorial on the reef.  You can, however, opt for something a little more inconspicuous.

Ashes are mixed with cement which is specially designed to be placed under water and cast in to whatever shape the dearly departed have specified. A team of divers than places the memorial in to its allotted space in the underwater cemetery. As well as the memorial a plaque made from a mix of copper and bronze is also attached – allowing visitors of the future to read the name, date of birth and epithet of the deceased whose ashes are encased in the surrounding concrete.

The reef is already developing coral – and in the space of a year this highly unusual graveyard is already attracting marine life such as Spotted Eagle Rays which cruise balletically through its surroundings. Schools of Snapper and Grunts have already been attracted to the memorial reef and the smaller tropical fish of the area such as Damsels and Puffers are arriving in numbers too.

Colonization by sponges and soft coral species are attracting the larger marine visitors and it will not be long before hard coral forms and interesting shapes emerge from the monuments on the sea bed. Land mammals are also beginning to congregate. As the artificial reef develops, more and more divers are heading its way to explore its eerie environs.

To ensure that everything has been done above board as it were the Department of Environmental Resource Management recently did a marine study on the burgeoning reef. They came to the conclusion that marine life had gone from close to zero to thousands in the space of the two years that the Neptune Memorial Reef has been in existence. So, if you are committed to the deep here, you may not be swimming with the fish exactly - but you are giving them a new home.