Waterside Guide

Newspaper: SunPost
Title: Waterside Guide
Author/Reporter: Ken English
Date: 04/30/2007

To most people, South Florida ends where the water begins.

There are those among us, however, who say everything begins where the land ends…

Coastal areas of South Florida have provided recreation since the days when Carl Fisher invited the rich and famous to visit Miami Beach for it’s deep sea fishing.

But the fish are in serious jeopardy.

Georgia Tasker exposed the decline in sport and commercial fishing in her two part story in The Miami Herald in October 2005. She pointed out the demise of the natural reefs that once flourished near Miami Beach and Key Biscayne.

Ask anyone who learned to scuba dive in the years following Sea Hunt and they will tell you South Florida’s natural reefs are nearly gone, along with coral and marine organisms that were once abundant.

Today, dozens of environment organizations are concerned about the demise of coral reefs between Key Biscayne and Key West. Reef Relief, a Key Wes

The decline began the moment the southern end of Miami Beach was severed to create the entrance to the Port of Miami. Continued dredging of the Port, combined with the constant need to pump sand on eroding beaches has resulted in the demise of near-shore reef systems.

To try and compensate for damage to natural reefs Miami-Dade County established an artificial reef program in 1981.
The Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) is responsible for acquiring and deploying manmade material that ranges from waste concrete, i.e. culvert pipe, bridge sections and limestone boulders to structures such as a former oil platform, a radio station antennae, a pair of U.S. Army tanks and dozens of ships.

Unusual reef material such as the a former Pan Am 727 jet and a concrete margarita bar, were done for media attention. The sinking of the 727 was broadcast live on Good Morning America September 1st, 1993, while the Jose Cuervo underwater bar – May 5, 2000, was part of ‘Sinko De Mayo Splash! South Beach Watersports Festival.

In October 2003, following the Dive Equipment Marketing Association’s convention at the Miami Beach Convention Center, DERM sunk the DEMA Trader, an obsolete island freighter. Other elements of underwater Miami include the U.S. Customs Reef, several ships confiscated by the government because of illicit cargo.

Future Topics will focus on environmental and tourism- related issues, such as beach erosion and the roll artificial reefs can play in slowing the movement of sand, while enhancing habitat for fish. The benefits of eco-tourism that can be derived from the the development of near-shore, shallow-water areas for snorkelers and recreational scuba divers.

When the wind blows and the surf picks up, hundreds of people pick up their surfboards and head to South Beach.

From the Miami Beach Marina, drift fishing and charter fishing boats provide an opportunity for people to enjoy the ocean, and catch dinner.

Yachts and power boats, wave runners and kayaks all provide recreation for residents and tourists alike.

We’ll follow organizations such as ECOMB, the Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach, the Surfrider Foundation and Reef Relief. And, just ot show you the waterside has it’s share of unusual ventures, we’ll report on the progress of the Atlantis Reef Project, the world’s first recreational dive site with an archeological theme.

Approved by DERM in December 2004, the Project received the approval of the Army Corps. of Engineers on January 9th, 2006 to build an underwater theme park that will include areas with cremated remains mixed in the concrete statues, columns, arches and domes.

Future story…

Diving in the Afterlife

The concept of the Atlantis Reef Project has evolved from a manmade reef intended to reduce pressure on nearby natural reefs into the world’s first underwater park with an archeological theme. As such, it will attract recreational divers in addition to marine life to Miami-Dade County’s Key Biscayne Special Management Zone.

In 355 B.C., relating what he had heard from Egyptian traders, Plato described a lavish city that no longer existed. Atlantis, he said, was a marvel of architecture and engineering with a series of concentric walls and canals radiating outward from a domed temple containing a statue of Poseidon, the god of the sea. Plato described the people of Atlantis as traders, artists and intellectuals, who became corrupt and greedy. The continent, he said, was covered by a wall of water, which resulted from a violent earthquake. While the word ‘tsunami’ was not part of the Greek vocabulary, the word evokes an image of devastation we have seen in recent years that can account for the disappearance of Atlantis.

Now a group of people with imagination and determination plan to build their vision of Atlantis. Several themed areas, such as the “Dome of Distinction,” will be developed within a circular area with a 900 foot diameter. Located in 50 feet of water, less than five miles southeast of Miami Beach, Florida, the Atlantis Artificial Reef will be the world’s largest manmade recreational dive attraction, according to Gary Levine, founder and CEO of the Atlantis Reef Project. “It will be,” said Mr. Levine, “an underwater art gallery and memorial garden.”

Levine envisions the memorial garden element as the final resting place of people who loved the ocean while alive.
Cremated remains will be placed in cylinders, which will be set in the concrete forms of columns, archways, domes and statues.

In 1913, when the Cremation Association of North America was founded, there were 10,000 cremations in the United States. By 1975, the number had grown to nearly 150,000.
More then 595,000 cremations took place in 1999. In 2003, the number exceeded 695,000. Cremation is projected to account for more than 45% of all afterlife services by 2025

Levine recognized an accelerating trend. He saw statistical information indicating the increasing social acceptance of cremation, but knew he had to do something different to have impact in a very traditional industry. When he refined the idea by deciding to shape the concrete into pieces of art, and place remains in cylinders imbedded in the various elements, he realized he would be building an underwater theme park for recreational scuba divers, while at the same time creating the most unusual afterlife service in the funeral industry.

“While having ashes scattered at sea is a meaningful farewell, permanent placement inside the structures making up the Atlantis Memorial Reef is a way to keep the memories alive and at the same time have a story to tell to friends and family members that has special significance,” continued Levine.

The concept of the Atlantis Memorial Reef has been recognized by funeral industry executives as an innovative and progressive option for those who have died. By providing a new alternative to an industry in transition from in-ground burial to cremation, the memorial reef will become a viable afterlife option for divers, environmentalists and those who love the ocean. The first phase of construction, which includes the ‘Dome of Distinction’ and the ‘Gates of Atlantis,’ is scheduled to begin in late 2005.

To maintain continuity and inject a sense of wonder, Levine asked Kim Brandell, a long-time friend and internationally recognized sculptor, to be the ‘artistic director’ of the project.

Born in Miami, Brandell grew up swimming and diving in the ocean along Key Biscayne. Rather than become a marine biologist or an oceanographer, as he had imagined when he was young, he developed his artistic skills, evolving into a world-class sculptor.

Thirty years of experience with diverse mediums and techniques have provided Brandell with a unique understanding of what it will take to build an underwater city. He has pieces of art around the nation and in five foreign countries, he said, but none underwater.

“We needed to illustrate the images I had in my head,” Brandell said, “so I asked Joey Burns, a talented designer- illustrator, to help.” “His work,” said Brandell, “evokes nothing less than a sense of awe in the beholder. Joey’s graphic images convey our concepts convey.” As the illustrator, Joey captured Brandell’s vision of Atlantis, which will feature large and small areas with themes such as military, sports, diving, education and science. “Our Atlantis,” said Brandell, “will be the largest underwater sculpture garden in the world.”

Preserving the structures in the water will be the responsibility of the Atlantis Reef Society, a 501c3 organization established as the Project’s fundraising arm. Members of the Atlantis Reef Society will be the caretakers of the park. Mostly a volunteer organization, the Society will maintain the mooring buoys, as well as the various themed areas. “We are developing a program to recognize people who have made significant contributions related to the ocean,” said Scott Woodburn, executive director of the Society. “We’re going to build the Dome of Distinction with the intention of honoring the memory of people who have made outstanding contributions to ocean- related endeavors, such as scuba diving, marine conservation, fishing and the military.” Mr. Woodburn said he is encouraging people to forward names and biographies to him for consideration.

“Atlantis Memorial Reef will be one of the most unique settings in the world to spend eternity,” said Levine. “It will, in essence, provide a way to live again as part of a new eco- system. This is,” he concluded, “a fascinating opportunity for people to create a living legacy for themselves, their family and their friends.”

For additional information, visit www.atlantisreefproject.com.