MIAMI – About 45 feet beneath the ocean’s surface lies a cemetery with gates, pathways, plaques and even benches.
Neptune Memorial Reef, which opened last fall, is seen by its creators as a perfect final resting spot for those who loved the sea. They hope that one day the reef will cover 16 acres and have room for 125,000 remains.
“This is simply as good as it gets,” said Gary Levine, a diver who conceived the reef and is a shareholder in the company that owns it.
Neptune Memorial Reef is located in open waters 3 1/4 miles off Key Biscayne, which means any certified diver can visit. The artificial reef’s first phase allows for about 850 remains.
The ashes are mixed with cement designed for underwater use and fitted into a mold, which a diver then places and secures into the reef. A copper and bronze plaque is installed with the person’s name, date of birth and death. There is also a line for a message.
Jim Hutslar, who manages the construction and deployment of the placements, said he wears sunglasses when mixing the remains with cement to hide his emotions, especially when the family of the deceased is present.
“I intentionally try to think about the person,” Hutslar said. “I am pretty sentimental anyway.”
In March, the remains of 93-year-old diver Bert Kilbride – who called himself “The Last Pirate of the Caribbean” – were placed atop a column of the reef’s main gate because of his contributions to the sea. Kilbride was named the oldest living scuba diver in this year’s Guinness Book of World Records.
“I think he would feel very honored,” his son Gary Kilbride said. “This is somebody who has been connected to the sea his whole life.”
The cost of a placement starts at $995 and can go to $6,495, for those who want to be placed inside the base of a lion statue.