Neptune Memorial Reef
International waters off of Key Biscayne, Florida
N 25° 42.036′ W 80° 05.409′
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.
The Neptune Memorial Reef homepage: http://www.nmreef.com
Atlas Obscura’s listing for the reef: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/neptune-memorial-reef
Night-diving in the Neptune Reef: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMvjvHxmrRE