Under the Sea: A Memorial Reef

June 5, 2018

We have many recognizable monuments to honor and memorialize soldiers and service members, from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Now there’s a new one—harder to see, perhaps, but very unusual in its form and its purpose.

It’s called the On Eternal Patrol Memorial Reef, and it’s located beneath the water 9 miles off Florida’s Gulf Coast. It honors the US submarines and crew members that have been lost; the last one was the USS Scorpion, which sank in the North Atlantic in 1968 along with nearly 100 crewmembers. In all, 65 submarines and nearly 4,000 people have been lost in battle or in peacetime accidents.

The memorial reef, still under construction, will consist of 66 round concrete structures—one for each submarine and another to honor submariners lost in non-sinking accidents, as this article reports. Each hollow “reef ball” is 3 feet tall, weighs about 1,300 pounds, and sits on the ocean floor under about 45 feet of water; together they form an artificial reef. An organization called Eternal Reefs, which also creates private underwater memorials, is constructing and placing the flat-bottomed balls, which have a textured surface and vents to allow fish to hide within them. They are cast from a pH-neutral concrete. The organization says it has placed about 700,000 of the balls around the world in thousands of different projects.

Abandoned oil rigs and other artificial structures, including automobiles, military tanks, old subway cars, and sunken barges, have long been used as reefs. The irregularly shaped items provide hiding places for various fish and other aquatic animals, and organisms that need something to attach themselves to—such as oysters or corals—can adhere to them. When planned and placed correctly, artificial structures can increase biological diversity in a near-shore or deep-water environment and can help restore areas that have been damaged by silt and pollutants carried by urban stormwater runoff.

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.