Vision and Planning

The idea seemed almost crazy at 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.

A permit requirement for the Reef was that it was engineered to withstand the storm and “designed” for habitat.

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 Reef is also certified by the Green Burial Council, providing an ecologically-sensitive alternative to burial.

Engineering the Reef Habitat

The Neptune 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 Neptune Memorial Reef has exceeded all goals and hopes, accomplishing in its first six years what was expected to take at least ten.

The Neptune Memorial Reef™ is the most prolific artificial or natural reef in 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 NEPTUNE MEMORIAL Reef™

The Reef is designed for construction in phases. The first two phases of construction is comprised of 76 columns  covering a half-acre of ocean floor. When complete, the Neptune 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, texture, depth and profile 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 columns, arches, and bases from steel reinforced concrete. The concrete contains additives for faster curing and to reduce water penetration. 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 Neptune 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 deployment to the center of the column. Around the Welcome 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, shell, dolphin or octopus. Marine placements are permanently affixed into place using a two part epoxy for concrete underwater use. By the time it is complete, the Neptune Memorial Reef™ will include more than 250,000 memorials.

The Memorial Reef™ by the numbers

Current size nearly 1 acre
Future size 16 acres
Current number of columns 76
Weight of each column 5 tons
Weight of column arch 3 tons
Weight of column base 50+ tons
Weight of road unit 100 tons
Anticipated time to complete build 10 years

First Deployments

The first deployments to the 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 at the Neptune 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 Neptune 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 accompanies families who wish to visit a Memorial. Jim stopped logging dives in 2018 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.