Hawaii resident Steve Berkoff was scuba diving in the Philippines when he came across a quarter-scale model of a church that had been built by a local diver. The model included a graveyard, and Steve reflected that being buried underwater would be “a great idea.” Almost 20 years later, he formed a Memorial Reef company combining a unique way to remember a loved one with ocean conservation. In 2017, that company would become Memorial Reefs International.

But what, exactly, is a memorial reef? Reefs are essential to protect shorelines and maintain marine ecosystems, but most of the world’s reefs are at risk from an array of threats, including ocean warming and acidification, pollution, and overfishing. Memorial Reefs are artificial reef modules designed to create sustainable aquatic habitats that mimic natural reefs, helping to restore the coral reef ecosystem while honouring a loved one.

A unique resting place for companion animals.

To do so, they use technology developed by the Reef Ball Foundation, a 30-year-old non-profit committed to rebuilding critical reef environments. The crux of the idea is this: cremated remains are combined with PH-balanced concrete to create a large, perforated dome that will not degrade in seawater. Designed to last 500-plus years, it will become a permanent part of the ocean floor. The memorial aspect helps fund the reef-building. Another upside is this designated bit of seabed will remain undisturbed, further protecting it.

Photo Memorial Reefs International and The Reef Ball Foundation

Pet Reefs are the company’s newest offering; they will begin placing pet memorials in January 2023. “They sprang from a desire to honour the memories of beloved pets,” says Laura B. Boehm, PhD, General Manager. “Placing the pet’s ashes in a memorial reef creates new life out of loss.”

Their first Pet Reef will be placed near Sarasota, Florida, in a dedicated undersea memorial garden, with hopes to open other Pet Reefs adjacent to their existing sites in Texas, New Jersey, British Columbia, Ontario, Baja and Merida, Mexico, and Venice, Italy, says Boehm. 

There are several Memorial Reef options, including the affordably priced Community Reef, in which multiple pets’ ashes will be included in the Reef Ball. It costs just $40. Pet parents will receive a certificate, a photo of the Memorial Pet Reef Garden, and its GPS coordinates.  There are also options for a Pack Memorial Reef and Individual Memorial Reef, both of which include a personalized bronze plaque.

“A single mature Reef Ball can produce up to 200 pounds of marine life (fish, coral, crustaceans, and shellfish) annually,” says Boehm. “This helps to restore marine habitats and damaged corals lost to climate change. It also provides a specific location where you can come to visit and know that  your beloved pet is truly part of a living legacy.”

The Positive Impacts of Reef Balls

Memorial Reefs can be used to restore reefs that have been damaged or destroyed by hurricanes, ship strikes or climate change. They provide a stable structure for coral to grow on and marine life to flourish within. The surface of the memorial is textured to allow adhesion of coral polyps, while its hollow center shelters fish and other marine animals. The holes create currents that bring more nutrients to the animals and plants living there.


This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Dog magazine. Subscribe today!