Buried beneath the Broadwater

EDEN PARKES 

Being laid to rest on the Gold Coast may soon include a sub-aquatic option, with the council considering a new development beneath the waters of the Southport Broadwater.

Diver at the Neptune Memorial Reef.

A diver explores the Neptune Memorial Reef in Florida. A similar idea is proposed for the Gold Coast. Photo: David Doubilet

It is proposed that from 2019, private individuals could have their ashes interred into sea life-shaped moulds that will be installed in an underwater ‘graveyard’.

If successful, the ambitious facility would become the second of its kind in the world, inspired by Florida’s Neptune Memorial Reef, constructed in 2007.

The Miami attraction today houses the remains of 1000 individuals, with capacity for 125,000.

While the Neptune Reef is based on an Atlantis concept, the Gold Coast site would feature a sunken pyramid of Giza.

“The initial plan is to establish a significant pyramid shaped structure, the main piece of the dive site,” says Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, who backs the project.

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Divers will be able to explore the pyramid from a depth of eight metres to around 32 metres.

“From that main structure, we hope to establish other precincts off of it such as the underwater memorial garden,” Cr Tate said.

“Large concrete tree structures are designed and manufactured on land, then lowered into the water in a garden-like environment”.

Cr Tate said the project would be constructed either in the Southport Broadwater or off the coast of the Spit.

He believes it would help relieve pressure on land-locked burial sites and also boost tourism, attracting divers from around the world.

“The broader dive precinct would always be changing, with new features added over time to keep them coming back,” he said.

An estimated 2000 divers flock to the Neptune reef each month, making it the busiest dive site in Miami.

But President of the Save Our Spit Alliance, Steve Gration, was pessimistic about the idea.

“My understanding is that divers will not be fascinated or attracted to a giant pyramid, it sounds egotistical – almost like an Egyptian emperor wanting a monument in their name,” Mr Gration said.

Representative for Alambe Memorial Gardens in Nerang, Gainor Adams, said most people request a traditional lawn burial at Alambe.

“People love unique things: as long as the site is easily accessible for people to visit their loved ones – because that’s what it’s all about – I think it will be well received,” Ms Adams said.

Therese Tongue has purchased a plot at Alambe, which holds a special place in her heart.

“They were running out of space and I didn’t want to risk not being able to be buried in the same place that my father, my brother and two of my sisters already are,” she said, cringing at the thought of being buried at sea.

“It’s not something I would consider for myself.”

Alambe Memorial Gardens. Photo: Eden Parkes.

Mr Gration was in the same boat.

“My ashes are to be spread in the Pacific Ocean when the time comes but I certainly wouldn’t want to be interred in an underwater tomb, that sounds like torture rather than spiritual release,” he said.

Paying respects to  loved ones would require scuba diving qualifications, or viewing from above from a glass-bottomed boat.

Operations Director for the Neptune Memorial Reef, Jim Hulstar, is passionate about the experience it offers for families of the deceased.

“The difference between standing by a grave-site in a suit compared to being on the ocean in a bathing suit sets the scene for a genuine celebration of life. It is rarely sad during the deployment and the whole family is usually in the water,” he said.

Mr Gration accepted the success of the Neptune Reef in the US, but said the economies of scale posed a problem in Australia.

“A small percentage of people might find that quirky and interesting but I don’t believe it’s the right fit for Australia because of our low population,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s commercially or emotionally viable: I find it a rather out-there, unsustainable idea”.

Experienced diver Michelle Downing said the pyramid would likely pique the interest of divers, but she had concerns about the area’s water clarity levels.

“There’s not a lot of diving spots on the Coast so I think it’s a great idea that people would find intriguing,” she said.

“(But) if you go diving without perfect vision a lot of things can go wrong. If you don’t have perfect water clarity, divers will come once but they won’t return.”

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The Neptune Memorial reef has fostered an explosion of sea life, and is considered the most prolific reef in the continental US by many marine biologists.

“Land-based burial takes from the environment and the Neptune Memorial Reef, gives to the environment, creating life after life,” Mr Hulstar said proudly.

Mayor Tate has labelled the proposed Gold Coast site as the ultimate green burial and believes it will only enhance the marine environment.

“It’s 100 per cent eco-friendly as any material placed down there would be made of a product that attracts marine growth and releases no chemicals,” he said.

The Neptune Reef took nearly four years to construct, requiring precautions to ensure the site could withstand mother nature.

“Our permit required that we engineer our reef to survive the one in 100-year storm which, for us, was category 5 hurricane Andrew,” Mr Hulstar said.

Mayor Tate wants the Pyramid installed by the end of 2019, but Mr Gration warned that studies by Save the Spit indicated that the Gold Coast may not be amenable to this plan.

“There is a lot of sand movement, wave and storm action. If you have a dive site offshore in the Pacific Ocean there are hundreds of days a year when the conditions will be unsuitable for diving,” he said, warning the costs may outweigh the benefits.

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