When Greater Cleveland Aquarium Diver Damon Johnson swam with his first eagle ray in the Atlantic Ocean a few years ago, it was at one of the more unusual dive sites in the world. Neptune Memorial Reef, which will be the largest man-made reef in the ocean once it’s completed, offers people an opportunity to mix the cremated remains of their loved ones into the cement structures that make up the reef.
Just over three miles off the Atlantic Coast of Key Biscayne (south of Miami, Florida), and 40 feet underwater, plans for Neptune Memorial Reef show it eventually covering 16 acres of ocean floor and including more than 250,000 memorials to both humans and their beloved pets. It already has at least one famous resident—celebrity chef Julia Child.
Although far from finished, the reef is already transforming the underwater environment. The bases, pillars and arches are engineered to support marine life in all its forms. Coral and other benthic animals grow on the texture of the base and pillars, and the arches have holes where prey animals can hide from predators. A recent survey showed hundreds of species including bluehead wrasse, sergeant majors, barracudas and pufferfishes. Crabs, lobsters and sea urchins can be found in the crevices and of course, as Damon and his father discovered, divers might even find a majestic eagle ray, which can have a wingspan up to ten feet. The bevy of life swimming amongst the cremated remains is perhaps perfectly summarized by Neptune’s motto “creating life, after life.”
Damon has been diving since 2019. His father got certified soon after and they found that they enjoyed diving the warm, turquoise South Florida waters together. He and his father are now both certified advanced divers and look forward to diving Dubai in the near future.
Neptune Memorial Reef is the second in our weekly series of the Aquarium dive team’s favorite dive locations. Stay tuned for the rest of our list or suggest somewhere new we might want to explore.