Monthly Archives: February 2018

Cemetery of the Week #163: Neptune Memorial Reef

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From the Neptune Memorial Reef gallery:

Neptune Memorial Reef
International waters off of Key Biscayne, Florida
N 25° 42.036′ W 80° 05.409′
Founded: 2007
Size: 16 acres
Number of interments: There are 1200 places available “in the reef’s initial development.” More than 200 placements have been made.

Three and a quarter miles off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida stands a one-of-a-kind cemetery. The Neptune Memorial Reef, inspired by sunken cities like Alexandria and Herakleion, is the world’s most beautiful underwater graveyard.

Sponsored by the Neptune Society — one of the largest providers of cremation in the US — the manmade reef is designed as a repository for human cremains. Families select a design created by Key Largo artist Kim Brandell, add their loved one’s cremated remains and small mementos like fishing lures or crucifixes to the concrete, and the unique monument is placed by divers forty feet below the waves.

The monuments are all huge and quite heavy: five-ton columns on fifty-ton bases. Even the smaller sculptures of shells weight ten pounds.  Because of their weights and the depths at which they are placed, the Neptune Reef has safely ridden out the hurricanes that damaged the historic cemeteries of St. Augustine.

Shipwreck diver Bert Kilbride — who was immortalized in the Guiness World Records as the oldest scuba diver when he was still diving at the age of 90 — has a place of honor atop one of the columns at the Reef gate. Other monuments in the cemetery include benches, columns, starfish, and more. Future monuments may include dolphins and Neptune himself.  Brandell considers his architecture futuristic rather than classical, but the broken columns, colonades, and massive bronze lions echo the mythical Atlantis.

The largest manmade reef yet conceived is in the process of transforming more than sixteen acres of barren ocean floor. The reef meets the guidelines of the EPA, NOAA, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Memorial Reef also belongs to the Green Burial Council.

The reef was designed to welcome fish and promote the growth of corals. Since 2007, the reef has attracted 56 species of fish. The most common is Bluehead Wrasse, followed by Sergeant Majors, Bar Jacks, and Tomtates. French angelfish and yellowtail snappers have been seen. Long-spined sea urchins and many species of crab have moved into the reef’s crevices. Sponges colonize the vertical surfaces of the reef, alongside trunkfishes, filefishes, and pufferfish. Fourteen species of coral have moved in, followed by spiny lobsters, spotted and green moray eels, and rainbow parrotfish. In fact, the ecosystem has developed faster than expected.

The Neptune Memorial Reef attracts recreational scuba divers, marine biologists, and researchers from all over the world.

Useful links:

The Neptune Memorial Reef homepage:

Atlas Obscura’s listing for the reef:

Night-diving in the Neptune Reef:


Louisiana’s Endangered Cemeteries

Fragile Grounds: Louisiana's Endangered CemeteriesFragile Grounds: Louisiana’s Endangered Cemeteries by Jessica H. Schexnayder and Mary H. Manhein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What an important topic for a book about cemeteries! Louisiana loses the an area the size of a football field every half an hour, as its coast is devoured by the sea. In the last 50 years, Louisiana has lost an average of 34 square miles per year. More than 500 cemeteries exist in Louisiana’s coastal zone: last resting places of Native Americans, slaves and freemen, French, Spanish, Cajun, and more. The book does a good job of laying out the threats these cemeteries are facing, from salt intrusion to ground subsidence, flooding, hurricane damage, and being reclaimed by the ocean.

Unfortunately, Fragile Grounds doesn’t do such a great job describing what will be lost. The photos are simple snapshots, usually taken in the flat light of midday. For the most part, these aren’t grand cemeteries with statuary or stained glass or famous names. This doesn’t make them expendable, however. In fact, if the book had focused on the cemeteries, detailing their communities’ history, it would have made a stronger case for saving them. Instead, each graveyard gets a scant handful of paragraphs jammed onto a single page with long captions and multiple little photographs. The layout allows the authors to cover a lot of ground, but I would have liked more depth.

Still, some of the photos are heartbreaking, showing vaults broken open by hurricanes or vandalism, coffins displaced by flooding, tombs sinking beneath the Gulf of Mexico. As the authors point out, “As humans, not only do we mourn the loss of our loved ones, but we also mourn our burial grounds….When those cemeteries left behind fall victim to natural and manmade devastation, such loss unravels the fabric of our history and renders it unrecoverable for future generations.”

I’m glad the authors are drawing attention to the losses to come. I hope someone else will spend more time documenting exactly what will be lost and thereby preserve the memory of it for the future.

I bought my copy from Dark Delicacies in Burbank, California, but you can also find the book on Amazon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Four Graves for Harvey Milk

Earlier this month, I wrote a guest piece for The Cemetery Club for LGBT History Month about Harvey Milk: