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The crew prepares to drop a concrete reef ball off the Ocean City shoreline Sept. 25, as part of a venture to bring eco-friendly end-of-life events to the area. The reef balls form an artificial reef that eventually becomes a playground for fish.

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OCEAN CITY - For Christine Daisey, 68, who has lived near the ocean all her life, having her cremated remains part of an artificial reef off Ocean City’s coast is a chance to “give back.” 

She was one of four state residents participating in an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burials held Sept. 23-25 by Memorial Reefs International (https://bit.ly/345N2YL) and Destination Destiny (https://bit.ly/33aGkkL). 

Destination Destiny, an entity of Steelmantown Cemetery Company, was founded earlier this year by owner Ed Bixby after much research and planning.  

After years in the cemetery industry, he created the company to offer more environmentally friendly celebrations of life and resting places to families planning their loved ones’ services. He decided to partner with Memorial Reefs International, of Hawaii, to expand his business, providing a sixth eco-friendly burial alternative. 

“A family can find closure with an event like this,” Bixby said, “as their loved one rests in the arms of nature. The loved one has a chance to give back as part of the artificial reef.” 

“This is a way to protect the world’s ocean ecosystems through the development and use of ecologically sound artificial reef technology,” added Steve Berkoff, managing partner, Memorial Reefs International. 

“Not only do these reefs serve as a home for an abundance of marine life, but they also offer families and loved ones with a unique resting place they can visit and explore for years to come,” he added. 

Bixby said the inaugural ceremony and reef dedication, in New Jersey, “fulfilled his vision. 

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Ed Bixby, founder of Destination Destiny and owner/operator of Steelmantown Cemetery Companies, and Christine Daisey, of Margate, show off her plaque she installed Sept. 23 on a reef ball that was placed off the Ocean City shoreline Sept. 25. Daisey’s plaque commemorates her birth date and the fact that she’s “an Atlantic City girl.”

“We are a cemetery company, and now, we are offering final disposition products,” Bixby said. “The events empower a family to make it their own. I envision that this first event will allow us to have a more regular schedule, in New Jersey, and offer internment dates from April-November.” 

He said there are more than 3,000 reefs globally. 

According to Berkoff, artificial reefs, known as reef balls, are formed using ocean-safe concrete and cremated remains. The reef balls come in different sizes, and a bronze plaque is installed to personalize the reef with the family member’s name, lifespan, and other information. 

When the reef balls are being prepared for installation, families and loved ones can be involved in every step. The family helps create the “jewel” with the cremated remains, which is then glued into the reef ball before installation. The installation is a multi-day event to celebrate the life and legacy of the person who died. 

Plaques were mounted and “jewels” were made in a ceremony Sept. 23, at a Woodbine horse farm. The balls were deployed about 4.5 miles from the Ocean City shoreline Sept. 25, and flowers were laid, as part of the event 

Four marker balls were placed: one for Daisey, another for a couple not in attendance, and one for a man who died and was represented by his brother and four family members. 

Daisey, who grew up in Atlantic City and Ventnor, said, “An artificial reef helps the environment, gives the fish a place to play, and is a great way to give back rather than being buried in a cemetery.” 

Daisey, of Margate, participated in the Now and Later Program, “taking care of all the planning ahead of time so her family wouldn’t be burdened with it” at the time of her death. 

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Families and friends watch as a reef ball is dropped into the Atlantic Ocean off Ocean City’s shoreline Sept. 25. The reef balls use ocean-safe concrete and cremated remains to form a memorial reef. There are 3,000 such reefs globally.

The Now and Later reefs are installed the same way as memorial reefs, but can be installed before death to grow and develop, which also allows people to see how their reef ball is helping the environment before dying. Berkoff said the owner’s cremated remains are added to the reef ball later. 

Although Daisey said she doesn’t scuba dive, she has snorkeled over the years and enjoyed the water’s beauty. She’s also glad to help the environment. 

“My mother just passed away and was buried in a cemetery, and the cost was over $12,000,” she said. “The price for this was right; it was just under $5,000.” 

The prices vary, according to Berkoff, “from a few thousand to over $10,000, depending on how big a monument you want. We also have a low-cost option called a community ball that is $1,000 and allows people to share a memorial with others.” 

Memorial Reefs International has been operating solely in Mexico and Europe and chose New Jersey because of its partnership with Bixby and the “willingness of New Jersey officials to give us a place in one of their reefs,” according to Berkoff. “New Jersey is the first logical site since it’s the home base of Steelmantown.” 

Bixby is a New Jersey native, as well. 

“My kids are in Maryland and California,” noted Daisey. “Now, it will up to them to come up with my epitaph.” 

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com. 

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