If you have a trip planned to Neptune Memorial Reef for your next vacation, this guide will help you maximize your time spent at the reef and learn more about the history of how the reef came to fruition.

Located about three miles east of Key Biscayne in Miami, Florida, Neptune Memorial Reef is the largest man-made reef ever built. It covers over 16 acres of ocean floor is environmentally sound and is under strict guidelines under various wildlife organizations.

These organizations include: EPA, DERM, NOAA, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and the Army Corps of Engineers. It is sponsored by the Neptune Society and serves as an underwater cemetery, as well as a continuously growing artificial reef. The structure opened in 2007.

How Does Neptune Memorial Reef Work?

 Cremated remains are used to shape a concrete structure and they are then placed within the memorial.

The remains can either be sent in the mail or delivered in person to be deployed. They are then mixed with cement and sand, poured into a mold, and strategically added to the reef.

There are currently 15 burial locations, ranging from standard to exclusive structures. Divers can then explore the memorial and visit their loved ones in their final resting place.

The History of This Beautiful Memorial

The Memorial Reef was designed as a way to memorialize those who have passed in a way that will continue to grow and live on forever for others to appreciate. Its original design plan was for architects to create a sort of “Lost City of Atlantis”, but developers soon realized that the costs associated with this idea were skyrocketing.

The idea then surfaced for an underwater graveyard that could also serve as a habitat for marine life to flourish. It was also designed to withstand powerful storms and continues to develop more and more coral formations over the years.

Divers add a new piece to the reef with each addition, equipped with a plaque commemorating the name of the deceased, along with dates. Families are strongly encouraged to participate in the process and welcome to visit at any point in time.

Fish Species and Invertebrates

As the structure has continued to grow and serve as a habitat for marine life, more and more species have been spotted by divers visiting the reef.

Some of these species include:

  • Spotted Eagle Rays
  • Grunts
  • Snappers
  • Damselfish
  • Puffer Fish
  • Tropical Fish

How Many Species are There?

As of 2018, the reef was found to contain about 80 different species of fish and other organisms. There are also about 195 colonies of coral. The first shark was sighted near the reef last year, which is a good sign of a healthy, thriving reef. Experts say the ecosystem has developed much faster than scientists thought would be possible and they are hoping that it continues to flourish as they continue to expand it.

Neptune Memorial Reef

Image by Todd Murray via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.0

How to Get to the Reef

The Neptune Memorial Reef is located 40 feet under the sea at the following GPS coordinates:

N25º 42.036′, W80º 05.409′

The Memorial Reef is visited frequently by scuba divers, marine biologists, ecologists, researchers, students, and more.

The reef does, however, require PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification to visit. This means that you have been properly trained to use scuba equipment and have learned the techniques of safe scuba diving.

Certification Process

During the certification process, you will also learn about underwater hand signals, how to choose the right scuba gear for your dive, and what to consider when planning your dives.

As far as age requirements, to take the PADI certification, you must be 10 years or older to the take the course. Anyone younger than 15 can take the PADI Junior Open Water Diver Certification, which can then be upgraded to the PADI Open Water Diver certification once they reach the age of 15.

Requirements

The certification typically requires 4 or 5 successful open water dives before the certification is completed. Prices range starting from $150 and portions of the test can be taken online to help bring the cost down to a more affordable range.

The best part is that once you receive your PADI certification, you are certified for life and do not need to worry about renewing your certification.

You can bring your own boat to visit the reef or contact one of the many boat services available in the area or one of the dive partners to help you plan your dive to the reef.

When you go through a dive shop, they will typically have you do a checkout dive, where they can ensure that you are properly trained on what to do. This is simply a safety measure that dive shops must complete prior to allowing divers to embark on their journey.

Some of the most popular dive partners are below:

There are many other dive shops in the Miami area that will take you to the reef, as well. Inquire within about setting up a dive.

manatee underwater

Tips for First Time Divers

If you’re visiting the Neptune Memorial Reef as a first-time diver, this is an excellent place for your first dive. Here are some helpful tips:

 

1. Ask Questions

When you’re learning scuba diving for the first time through a dive instructor, it can be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about any part of the process or to have them repeat steps if you’re confused.

 

2. Nerves are Normal

If you’re nervous, let your diving instructor know so they can take extra precautions with you while you’re starting your dive and throughout the duration

 

3. Don’t EVER Dive Sick

Don’t dive if you’re not feeling well or are under the weather. You will be wearing a mask that can be quite restrictive on your nose and face and will not be comfortable if you are not feeling well

 

4. Breathe

Remember to breathe and stay calm throughout your dive. You will have an oxygen tank attached to you that will be sufficiently filled for the duration of your dive.

Neptune Memorial Reef

Image by Todd Murray via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.0

Things to Remember When Visiting the Reef

 

1. No Fishing is Allowed

The workers at the reef are creating a vast ecological system that includes the fish.

 

2. Be Gentle with the Reef and Marine Life

Remember not to take any objects from the reef, including seashells or other components

 

3. Share the Space with Workers

If memorial reef workers arrive at the site, be respectful of their space, as they are often preparing for deployment of a new addition to the reef.

Future Plans for the Reef

The Neptune Society would like to continue to expand the memorial to take on more of a “lost city” look and the ultimate goal is to expand it to a 16-acre city containing the remains of 125,000 people. It is currently a quarter of an acre and contains the remains of about a hundred people.

It is a once in a lifetime site that is definitely worth a visit!

Benefits of Artificial Reefs

You might be wondering why the Neptune Memorial Reef is so important and how it can impact the ocean and its inhabitants.

Artificial reefs help to provide a safe home for underwater critters, such as barnacles, algae, corals, and other marine life.

It can also help to control erosion, improve water conditions for surfers, and become a feeding area for smaller fish, which in turn attracts the larger fish that prey on the smaller fish. In a sense, it helps to keep the circle of life turning and builds an ecological system that is self-regulating.

Of course, these could be created to look just as naturally formed reefs do, but that takes away the fun and creativity behind the Neptune Memorial Reef.

Structures within artificial reefs, such as Neptune Memorial, are shaped into sculptures, seashells, starfish, animals, and more and help to bring the dream and vision of the “Atlantis” to life.

Best Time to Go

Key Biscayne, Florida is known for its warm weather and year-round sunshine, but there are certain times of the year that may be best to plan your vacation. If you’re planning lots of warm weather activities, the best time to go would be between November and late April.

Temperatures around this time will be between the 70s and 80s. Visiting during this time can also help you avoid the peak vacation rates that hit later in the summer when kids are out of school and tourist season begins.

Florida is known for its humid weather and while it does get hit by rain and downpours, these can typically be predicted in the weather forecast prior to your trip. When planning out your vacation, be sure to check the upcoming weather to ensure you’re properly prepared for your trip.

Pack Your Bags and Go!

A visit to the Neptune Memorial Reef is one that you will want to document, so be sure to bring a waterproof camera along for your journey and stop to take in the beautiful scenery.

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