A burial at sea is not just for salty sea captains or crusty pirates.
Lahaina Divers was fortunate to participate in a touching memorial service as a private charter. Many people have chosen to scatter ashes in the beautiful waters off Maui over the years, which is a lovely tribute. People often make final resting place plans in a place they loved in life, and scuba divers are no different.
However, there are some legal guidelines as well as environmental considerations before dispersing ashes into the ocean.
To begin with, we are talking about cremated remains, which the Department of Health considers nontoxic. Driven in large part by environmental concerns, cremation overtook traditional burials in 2015. This also launched more environmentally friendly ways to recognize the end of one’s life, including some interesting products.
One is a simple bio-degradable paper urn shaped like a sea turtle. Ashes are placed in the turtle and set adrift in the ocean.
Ashes can also simply be sprinkled from the boat into the sea, keeping in mind wind direction. While it may be tempting to set flower leis adrift, many contain plastic connectors, or a loop of string that can entangle marine life. Best to remove flowers from the lei, and sprinkle only the flowers in the ocean with the ashes.
This would probably be a good time to mention that human remains in ocean waters are supposed to be placed more than three nautical miles away from shore, according to the EPA. Materials that are not readily decomposable in the marine environment, such as plastic or metal flowers, wreaths, tombstones or other types of monuments are not allowed. Also, pet remains cannot be buried at sea.
In Hawaii, however, culture and tradition have guided more relaxed rules on nearshore waters. The Department of Land and Natural Resources asks that the “ashes be dispersed at sea beyond the reef line, or away from other people.” So while you should not sprinkle ashes from shore, it is not uncommon to see outrigger canoes, surf or paddle boards travel beyond the nearshore reef to ceremoniously sprinkle a loved one’s remains in the ocean.
In other parts of the U.S., people have an opportunity to add their remains to an Eternal Reef, creating a new marine habitat for sea life. Eternal Reefs takes the cremated remains of an individual and incorporates them into an environmentally-safe cement mixture designed to create artificial reef formations. Pet remains can be included with family member remains under this program.
These artificial reefs, which require a special permit from the EPA, are then placed in a permitted location designated for development as recreational reefs for fishing and diving. These are public reefs and are enjoyed by everyone.
Currently there are no Eternal Reefs in Hawaii. A proposed project off the coast of Oahu in 2016 was met with community and Hawaiian cultural opposition.
Many blessings and peace to those families who have lost a loved one this past year. Some of us feel strongly connected to the sea. A celebration of life, which joins our remains with the ocean we love from the comfort of a private boat charter, may be a fitting final farewell.