Of all the strange ways to get buried in this world, the western tradition of burial may be the most bizarre. As opposed to many of the funeral rites observed elsewhere, our form of traditional burial – with its embalming fluids, caskets, liners, vaults and tombs – aims to preserve the body for as long as possible, with the express purpose, it would seem, of not returning it to nature. No ashes to ashes, dust to dust for a body pumped with formaldehyde and housed in a metal casket.
Yet traditional burial seems to be a trend in decline; natural burials are on the rise, and 41 percent of Americans are now opting for cremation, a process considered “all but taboo” 50 years ago. And with this increase in cremations, there is a whole new array of services to deal with the cremation remains. (Are you really going to pass down an urn of ashes for generations to come?)
One way is to incorporate the ashes into concrete and sink it into the ocean.
Known as a reef ball burial, the cast forms create new marine habitats for fish and other forms of sea life. Due to human activity and natural disasters, the ocean’s natural reef systems have been significantly reduced and thus, enduring artificial reefs have become a useful tool for restoring reef systems to a natural and productive balance.
One company, Eternal Reefs, has teamed up with The Reef Ball Foundation to address the problem of the reefs and to provide a natural burial option. Cremated remains are mixed into “100 percent natural cast concrete” to create a “pearl.” Once the pearl has been cast, the family can personalize it with handprints or messages etched into the damp concrete and add small mementos.
On the dedication day, a boat is chartered for friends and family to observe the reef ball as it is placed in the reef where it will become an established habitat. The fish, turtles and other forms of sea life are happy — and there’s one less urn of ashes to get lost in the attic.