There is life after death for local islanders willing to have their cremated remains placed at the bottom of the ocean.
A Ladysmith funeral home is bringing a unique opportunity first popularized in coastal United States to the east coast of Vancouver Island and will offer memorial reefs moulded in part from the ashes.
Kevin Owens, the funeral director at Evergreen Cremation Centre, discovered the idea online after a conversation with friends and family about sustainability initiatives in his line of work.
“There’s lots of people who get scattered into the ocean, no harm, but no benefit,” he said. “This is, you’re going into the ocean and becoming beneficial.”
Each reef weighs upwards of 150-lbs and is a combination of sand, sea shells, ‘ocean-friendly cement’ and cremated remains.
“Lots of different companies make artificial reefs… but these are the only ones that are small enough to be maneuverable and it keeps the cost down,” he said, noting that if his business expands to the other side of the island that the reefs can withstand the waves created by a Category 4 hurricane.
A certified diver, Owens explained that the three sites along the coast were picked for the reefs with the help of local diving masters because the locations are already damaged by humans or void of life, such a sandy bottom.
Still, he went through months of reports and approvals from Fisheries and Oceans Canada as well as Transport Canada and is now ready to start offering the unique service to interested families.
The reef sites are Cape Lazo at the tip of the Comox Peninsula near Courtenay, Coffin Point near Ladysmith and Ten Mile Point between Telegraph Cove and Spring Bay in Victoria.
The minimum depth requirement for the reef is 45-75 feet, mostly because that’s were the majority of marine life exists.
About a year after a memorial is installed by Owens and another driver, seaweed will grow and attract smaller marine life, which will then feed krill, shrimp, crab and so forth up the food chain.
“As tragic as deaths are there’s a benefit that comes out of it,” Owens said. “The family members can go out and sit at Transfer Beach and look out across the water and think dad’s going good.”
Coffin Point in particular is a recognized Rockfish Conservation Area by the federal government meaning it also won’t be disturbed as the reefs bring new life to the seabed.
“If life grows there (Coffin Point) because of the artificial reefs, and there becomes an abundance of fish, I didn’t want the commercial or the recreational fisherman to go in and destroy everything that we just made,” Owens said.
Funeral homes from from Campbell River to Victoria are now offering the option of memorial reefs to interested families and each piece will be handcrafted by Owens in Ladysmith.
Several options are available from one to four set sets of cremated remains in a single reef with price points ranging between $2,400 and $4,000.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale will also go towards sea turtle preservation and the rehabilitation of marine ecosystems.
“It’s the one final gift that someone can give. They can give back to the earth; they can give back to the world,” Owens said.