Image via: Getty Images
When it comes to death, this is a topic most people don't like to talk about, but when environmentalists get involved, there is a debate to be had. Are you tossed overboard? Are you buried in a biodegradable cardboard box? Are you cremated? Each of these has weighty pros and cons, and now you can add being memorialized in a coral reef to the list.The Neptune Society, the largest cremation company in the US, has come up with a way to dispose of those ashes, by creating a 16-acre coral reef system off the coast of Miami, Florida - the largest man-made coral reef in the world. The Neptune Memorial Reef, as it is called, is certified by the Green Burial Council, meaning that it is built to last, promotes marine life in the area and is free of harmful materials.
Underwater image of the Neptune Memorial Reef. Image via Neptune Memorial Reef
Currently over 100 individuals are memorialized in this reef and you can watch an underwater video of the coral reef on their website. Even if you are not cremated by Neptune Society facilities, you can still take the remains of a loved one and have them installed at this site. Essentially, the remains will be turned into molds in their Miami studio and then affixed inside the different "Lost City" structures that they have installed on this first phase of the reef. Plus, they will affix a bronze plaque to the structure where your loved one remains and give you a photo album with images from the installation.
Neptune Memorial Reef system plan and burial location options. Image via: Neptune Memorial Reef
It starts to get a little cheesy when they describe the coral site as an "undersea tribute to life" and "a recreation of the legendary Lost City," - we assume they're referring to Atlantis. The creators also added "bronze statues of lions, majestic columns and sculptures of shells and starfish" which they claim was created using a non-polluting process, though the energy used to make the structures and transport them down into the ocean and install them (both the initial site and each installation of new "residents") constitutes quite a carbon footprint. Tour groups and divers are allowed down into the area of the reef, and there are reports that marine life has increased 60% in the area since installation.
Image via: Neptune Memorial Reef
While cremation itself does have its environmental downsides (namely energy use and mercury pollution), using your "remains" to build new habitat for marine life isn't a bad way to go. To be certified by the Green Burial Council, the reef must be free from harmful materials - since there tend to be metal and mercury remnants after cremation, we wonder if those are removed prior to installation in the reef. According to the Green Burial Council policy, they won't "require mercury pollution be mitigated" until 2010 when "cost-effective technologies are expected to be available."
While cremation is better than other burial options, we're not sure that encasing your remains inside of an already built reef structure is the greenest option either. For those who go ahead with it, maybe instead of leaving flowers on someone's grave, or memorializing their ashes in an urn in your living room, you'll take the family on a scuba diving trip and visit lost loved ones under the sea.