The Story of Neptune Memorial Reef™

Vision and Planning

The idea seemed almost crazy a first, to build an artificial reef that is also an art piece. But, that’s how some of the best ideas start. With a design conceptualizing a futuristic Lost City of Atlantis, a small group dedicated to the idea began the process of engineering the site and seeking approval.

To gain permits, the art reef must withstand the strongest storm in a hundred years, at that time a category 4 hurricane. Before the permits were issued, along came Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 hurricane, necessitating another round of engineering, and, unfortunately, loss of many pieces that gave Atlantis its artistic flare.

The Neptune Memorial Reef™ meets the strict guidelines and permitting of the EPA, DERM, NOAA, Florida Fish and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Memorial Reef™ is also a member of the Green Burial Council, providing an ecologically-sensitive alternative to burial.

Engineering the Reef Habitat

The Memorial Reef™ is the only artificial reef in the world required to conduct phase one studies, engineer the Reef to withstand the strongest storm in 100 years, and engineer the Reef to encourage an entire ecosystem. In this last regard, the Memorial Reef™ has exceeded all goals and hopes, accomplishing in its first six years what was expected to take at least ten.

The Memorial Reef™ is now the most prolific artificial or natural reef in south Florida. The reef can even be classified as a coral reef now that 14 species of reef-building coral have joined the ecosystem. Some of the Reef’s ecological successes have been a surprise, like the identified sea urchin previously thought to be extinct in the Caribbean.

Constructing the Reef™

The Memorial Reef™ is designed for construction in phases. The first phase of construction is complete with 44 columns covering a half-acre of ocean floor. When complete, the Memorial Reef™ will cover 16 acres and include over 5,000 columns. The building cost for the first phase of the Reef build was over $1.5 million.

A marine biologist engineers every Reef piece so that every angle and texture is designed to support the ecosystem. Reef pieces are built on land and moved by barge to the Reef site during the summer. Custom-built molds are used to create two columns per day from steel reinforced concrete. The concrete contains additives for faster curing and to reduce water penetration. Pieces are reinforced with steel rebar. Several pieces are built including bases, columns, and road units consisting of four column arches. Each concrete base, the smallest of which weighs 50 tons, has four 8-inch pipes that extend eleven feet into the sand to prevent lateral movement of the Reef.

The Memorial Reef™ consists of road units meeting at a centerpiece. It is designed with portals for future placement of features mixed with cremated remains. Columns, for example, contain a pin holding the top on. The 250 pound top is removed for deployments to the center of the column. Around the Atlantis centerpiece sits a bench designed as a fish habitat. The bench cover is removed for deployments to this feature. Road podiums contain portals for installment of deployments. Memorial plaques are affixed to the outside of the features.

Many families choose a free-standing Memorial piece, or marine placement, in the shape of a marine animal natural to the ecosystem such as a starfish or shell. Marine placements are glued into place using a Miami-designed epoxy for concrete-to-concrete underwater use. By the time it is complete, the Memorial Reef™ will include more than 250,000 memorials 

The Memorial Reef by the numbers

Current sizenearly 1 acre
Future size16 acres
Current number of columns76
Weight of each column5 tons
Weight of column arch3 tons
Weight of column base50+ tons
Weight of road unit100 tons
Anticipated time to complete build10 years

First Deployments

The first deployments to the Memorial Reef™ were of cremated remains abandoned, sadly, by their families; the very first deployment was a marine placement in the shape of a starfish.

Daniel Restrepo, a beloved young man, was the first intended deployment. Restrepo was just 13 when he was shot in a drive-by shooting. Though doctors gave no hope for recovery, the family persevered, and Daniel recovered, regaining the ability to walk and talk. Ten years later, he died. The Restrepo family purchased an entire column of the Memorial Reef™ with space for an additional 13 future deployments. Mrs. Restrepo mixed Daniel’s cremated remains with concrete to create the piece for deployment.

The Memorial Reef's Captain

Neptune Memorial Reef™ is managed by one of the original founders, Jim Hutslar. A lifelong boater and divemaster, Jim had ended a career in medical sales when he decided to join the Reef project. An environmentalist at heart, Hutslar is thrilled to see the progress at the Reef.

Hutslar is easily accepted by the marine wildlife. He handles deployments to the Reef and often accompanied families who wish to visit a Memorial. Jim stopped logging dives over a year ago when he completed his 3000th dive at Neptune Reef™. Participating in establishing a Reef Memorial is a bonding experience, one that often leans towards ongoing contact, repeat dives, and the occasional picture sent to the family.

Hutslar is proud to provide this green burial alternative to a traditional burial, offering a unique and ecologically sensitive Memorial following cremation.