Eternal Reefs began simply. In the late ’80s, a pair of college roommates from the University of Georgia often went diving off of the Florida Keys on breaks.Over the years of diving, they saw significant deterioration and degradation of the reefs they were visiting. Don Brawley, founder of Eternal Reefs, realized the reefs needed help. A decision was made to do something about the reefs’ declining health.
Once the friends were out of school, they began to talk about what contributions they could make that would help protect and restore these fragile ecosystems. Creating a material and system that would replicate the natural marine environment that supports coral and microorganism development was what they decided to do. And thus, the concept of the reef ball was formed – to directly rehabilitate and rebuild the dying reefs and in turn, add new habitat to the marine environment.
They faced two primary design challenges. Stability would be crucial. The design needed to be capable of absorbing and dissipating energy in the marine environment without moving. It would need to withstand not just the normal tidal and current flows, but also major storms and the dynamic energy impacts that accompany them.
The material would also need to be friendly to the marine environment. It would have to be made of natural materials that would attract and encourage microorganisms to settle and propagate on the reefs.
Patented mold systems were developed to create reefs that closely mimic natural reef formations. Special design features were included to make it easy for sea life to attach and grow on these designed reef structures. An environmentally-friendly concrete formula was developed that would be attractive to the microorganisms to make the new reefs, and reef balls were born.
In 1990, the Reef Ball Development Group and Reef Ball Foundation completed the first reef ball project near Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Since that time, there have been over 3,500 projects worldwide with more than 400,000 reef balls placed on the ocean floor. With years of documented history of stability and habitat development, reef balls have become the world standard for fisheries programs, coral restoration, and habitat development projects.
In 1998, Carleton Glen Palmer, Don Brawley’s father-in-law, talked about having his cremated remains put in a reef. As Carleton put it, “I can think of nothing better than having all that action going on around me all the time after I am gone. Just make sure that the location has lots of red snapper and grouper.” Shortly after Carleton made this request, he passed away.
“Until the funeral director put his remains in my hands, I had forgotten about this casual conversation we had over dinner,” says Don Brawley. Don quickly set to work mixing the remains into the reef ball concrete to add to a placement they had planned in Sarasota, Florida. On May 1, 1998, a reef of ten Nautilus & twenty Aquarius Memorial Reefs were cast. The reefs were soon placed to create a beautiful, natural memorial setting. Carleton got his wish, and his reef is now teaming with sea life. Eternal Reefs was born.
People soon started hearing about Eternal Reefs and it has been growing naturally ever since. Now, working closely with a host of federal, state and local regulatory agencies, Eternal Reefs has grown to be a choice made by many when selecting their final resting place.
The reasons for choosing an Eternal Reef as a final memorial are as varied as the individuals and families making the choice. Rather than passing an urn down to future generations or taking space in a cemetery, this memorial is a true living legacy.
Military veterans, environmentalists, fishermen, sailors, divers and people who have been active all their lives or whose lives has been cut short, are comforted by the thought of being surrounded by all that life and action going on around them.
It’s really more like – look at what they’re doing now.