His skin has transformed into coral and his blood circulation is now the ocean’s swell — Carleton Glen Palmer, concert pianist, is an artificial reef. He was the first, ever since 1998, and currently over 250 others have joined him, dead, at the bottom of the sea, and teeming with life.
On September 22, 2004, off the rough shore of New Jersey’s coast, 11 people underwent the same process and had their ashes mixed into giant concrete balls that looked like chunks of Swiss Cheese. After a bittersweet memorial service, a giant crane then placed each of these reef balls, which were adorned with a plaque to memorialize its inhabitants, into the ocean.
“This man would fish in the snow,” said Mrs. Aronson about her recently deceased husband, Robert Aronson, who is now one of the reef balls. “Before I thought we would get my three kids together and sprinkle his ashes on the ocean,” she continued, “but this is doing it in a more identifiable fashion, where the kids can see where he is. Not in a mausoleum or Arlington Cemetery, but outdoors.”
Eternal Reefs, Inc. is a serendipitous development that began with the Reef Ball Development Group (RBDG); a group that was created by college friends who had a love for diving, but were troubled by the deteriorating conditions of natural reef formations. When that concert pianist, Carleton Glen Palmer, died he asked one of his kids, who was a member of RBDG, to put his cremated remains into one of their reefs:”I can think of nothing better,” Palmer said, “than having all that action going on around me all the time after I am gone.”
When Palmer finally did get his last wish, the concept for Eternal Reefs, Inc. was born. But perhaps even more significant than offering people a new spiritual means to be laid to rest, Eternal Reefs, Inc. is one of several pragmatic solutions that contribute to improving the marine environment.
Today, as nearly 10 percent of the world’s reefs are beyond recovery and, within the next 20 years, an additional 30 percent are estimated to undergo a considerable decline, the ecological and surfing future of the ocean looks bleak.
Eternal Reefs, Inc. helps States with the financial cost of installing artificial reefs by using the private revenue gained from the memorial services to pay for some of the building materials; hence this process allows more costal communities a fiscally plausible way to preserve aquatic life.
“What we like to say here is that we’re building public reefs with private money,” said CEO George Frankel of Eternal Reefs, Inc.
A reef ball’s cost ranges from $995 to $4,995 and is a mixture of the individual’s cremated remains and an environmentally safe liquid. The concrete is non-acidic and is shaped to encourage coral growth. Most of the weight is at the sculpture’s bottom so that it won’t move around, while its Swiss Cheese holes allow the ocean’s currents to pass through it. The reefs are projected to last up to 500 years.
Although Frankel admits that Eternal Reefs, Inc. has not yet done any surf spots, he does not discard it as possibility for the near future, so long as the company’s projects continue to expand with their increased publicity.
The famous 17th century philosopher John Donne once wrote that “no man is an island.” Well, at least now both man and woman can be a reef.
— Daniel Brown