Tyler: Hello listeners and thank you for joining me on Amazing Departures on Always Memorial Radio. I'm Tyler Fraser. I wanted to start off by saying I'm honored and humbled to have you listening to this show. There's a lot of places where you can get information about losing a loved one and that includes your local funeral service provider and I'm just so thankful for you to be joining me on this podcast today. I have a special guest, he is the founder of Living Reef Memorial and Sea Turtle Rescue, his name is Robert Sarnie. Welcome to the show Rob.
Rob: Well thank you very much for having me Mr. Fraser, I appreciate it.
Tyler: Listeners you're you're probably listening to the show because you lost someone or maybe you're thinking about planning your own farewell and in the spirit of the name of this podcast Amazing Departures we have Rob Sarnie to talk about Living Reef Memorial. Rob, can you tell the listeners a little bit about your product?
Rob: Well, I sure can and the first thing is that when we're talking about a living reef we're talking about something that is purposeful, meaning these reefs are part of a habitat restoration habitat enhancement project that wouldn't have been otherwise funded. It’s not for the sale of the living reefs, we market our reefs or disguise them if you will as a green burial alternative to traditional burials but in reality they are there to serve a purpose and that purpose is to repopulate and enhance the biodiversity within our coastal waters, the hardest-hit of all of our waters which would regard overfishing and pollution and so on and so forth. And these reefs help in that regard in a great way.
Tyler: So where are you currently deploying your reefs?
Rob: We currently have three locations that desperately need help and the first is south ??? island in off the coast of San Diego, northern Baja, Mexico and these are quaint little islands that I might add might add just got a sanctuary approval from the Mexican government so they'll never be touched and that we owe a great bit of gratitude to the legislators who have decided to to make that area a preserve.
The next location is Vancouver, Canada and what a beautiful location that is, just stunning water, but again they have environmental issues that these reefs help to address. Then the third location is in northern Florida in Bay County, beautiful water but again you know because of overfishing and the pollution issues they really need more biodiversity and and certainly more fish in those areas to increase the fish counts, because the consumption levels are simply not decreasing. They're always going to increase and we need to make our coastal waters more biologically diverse and more biologically productive and these reefs need to do that.
Tyler: I currently live in Virginia but I was raised in Orange County not too far from San Diego and just two years ago I took a fishing boat out of San Diego Fisherman's Landing and we rode right by the Coronado Islands and it was a really nice trip time for reflection especially on the way back as the Sun set, just a gorgeous place to be memorialized.
Rob: It is absolutely magical and it's on an ancient whale migration route which is pretty spectacular. The gray and the humpback whales taps right over the deployment area and they can regularly be seen breaching and so they go down to southern Baja to calf and then on the way back they bring their calves, the mothers bring their calves with them and it is truly an inspiring sight.
Tyler: Rob you're a biologist, is that correct?
Tyler: Okay and if you would please briefly describe kind of the product on the funeral side and then also the service it does to the biology of the ocean.
Rob: I think the reason why people choose the Living Reef Memorial is because of not necessarily what it is but what it does and it leaves a lasting legacy for those that we leave behind. Really a civic, an environmental asset versus a civic or an environmental debt that is finite. You know caskets and mausoleums and all those seem to be rather, well they're not permanent and these are absolutely permanent. There is no economic motivation to remove destroy or molest these reefs once they're in place and in fact there's every economic motivation to leave them alone and let them do what they're doing which is you know essentially bring more biodiversity to an area, and it's affordable.
It's something that everyone can get behind, family and friends. It's prideful in that you're doing something you're leaving this or if the better place I think we all want to do that and there's pride in that. I have a saying that a heart filled with pride leaves little room for grief and that's true, when we're going through this mourning process it does help to have a bit of pride and to know that our loved one is going on to to help and to provide for the next generation.
Tyler: Rob I can recall visiting your home in San Diego and talking about these reefs and just really feeling the passion that you have for them. How do they help the wildlife on the bottom of the ocean?
Rob: Well that's a very good question and one that I can't answer in a very short fashion but let me try to give you an idea. In our area, in this particular area Coronado's, we farm the lobsters and the lobsters catch a lot of money on the hoof if you will. The lobster fishermen sell them and make quite a bit of money and so these economic pressures on that species are very great. As a result of that there is a bit of overfishing and lobsters aren't just... they’re predatory species and they will they will prey on many of the things that eat the brown algae that comprise the majority of our kelp forests in this area. Why is that important? Well those those animals those those at sea life that consumes that brown algae is overpopulated because of the lack of lobsters and in addition to some other species and so what we try and do is implement a marine habitat that is a perfect design for the spiny lobster to do exactly what it needs to do gives it a great home for not just the juveniles but also the adults and giving them a place harbor, safe harbor if you will and provide a home so so we're going to get more fry out there, more more lobsters and more lobsters means more kelp forests and more kelp forests mean, well the kelp forests are simply a forest really. And in a forest we've got an extremely bio rich environment and it's no different than the ocean. It's a national nursery for many homes, many pelagic species and marine life. In fact our city San Diego wouldn't be founded really unless for the fishing industry, the albacore tuna and the albacore tuna really do require the natural nurseries that the kelp forests provide so it's all interconnected and essentially what these reefs are is that we mimic habitat a very specific species in life, and typically those that have been impacted by humans.
We've had great success in restoring some fish stocks and making these areas that have been low in biodiversity, low in an overall biological production and transform them into thriving ecosystems that are completely sustainable.
Tyler: What are the reefs made of?
Rob: Calcium carbonate which is crushed shells, crushed seashells, comes from the ocean. Sands ,aso we washed a bit of sea sand and a good portion of that sand is made of shells as well. Cremains of course, we incorporate the cremains within the mix and a little bit of type-2 low alkaline concrete and that mixture, that compound is in cast into a mold. The mold is made of recycled materials. We actually create the voids that are created within the walls by using discarded fruit if you will so there's there's very little a footprint on on our productions of the reefs and I might also mention that we deploy these reefs off a catamaran that has been engineered to do one thing and that is to deploy artificial reefs but the really important thing about this vessel is it it's under sail power, we don't really burn petroleum products, although there is an engine in there we don't necessarily burn petroleum products in the manufacturing or the deployment of the reefs and I think that's a fitting tribute to the corporate climate of our organization. We're completely environmental everything that we do we have a great concern of what our footprint is and I think that's important in valuing our product. Many corporations may not have the same corporate culture as we do but we feel that it's what we do. We are here to help save our environment, your environment.
Tyler: I know the Green Burial Council would smile upon that and if you'd like to see the sailboat in action, listeners, visit Living Reef Memorial on YouTube and they've got the creation of the reef and also the deployment and some underwater footage. Rob, what made you want to start this?
Rob: Well, oddly we do aquaculture in in the Caribbean and I grow many many species of crevice dwelling species and I do that by mimicking the habitats. I once found that we were the only aquaculture that was not only sustainable but there was no bycatch, meaning I was able to get exactly the species that I want, the size that I want, the sex that I want without disturbing any other inhabitants. I came to say it back to San Diego, I was born in San Diego and I came back here and noticed after years I moved that there was there were no fish, I tried to fish, there's no fish I get in the water, there's no fish and I see no kelps, no kelp forest, there's no otters taking care of the kelps, there's very low biodiversity and these yet these fishermen are out there you know really decimating the area leaving us the next generation for very very little.
I knew that our technology was conducive to combat that and so I had to figure out a way to fund the project because essentially habitat mitigation and rehabilitation projects for the marine environment are seriously underfunded and so we simply decided, hey you know what maybe you know someone might want to be memorialized in this fashion. It had a few benefits that traditional burial didn't offer in it, you know obviously this one was green, it’s permanent, completely permanent. These reefs have been engineered to be very very stable, in Hurricane Five conditions they will not move because of the way they're shaped. There's been a lot of scientific research done in and the stability analysis keep these things doing exactly what they're doing instead of rolling around and just causing problems down below. So we have seen these reefs do really really well to get these marine ecosystems back up and running again. Because no one else was doing it no one else saw it, and I was the only one that doing the technology I figured you know what I'm the best guy for this job so let's try and do this and it turns out you know people really do enjoy putting a positive spin on a very tragic time in people's lives and these reefs offer that kind of opportunity.
Tyler: So in addition to your giving back to the landscape underwater, you also work with sea turtles, is that right?
Rob: Oh, absolutely right. All the proceeds benefit sea turtle rescue above and beyond the cost for the boats and everything which is exorbitantly expensive but yes all the proceeds above and beyond costs benefit our sister company Sea Turtle Rescue. We've been doing this since 2002, ww.seaturtlerescue.org Last year we were able to get out fifty thousand, nearly fifty thousand baby sea turtles on two continents that otherwise wouldn't survive.
We do this in northwestern Nicaragua and in Ghana, Africa - 2 very economically challenged locations, war-torn and quite dangerous but the need is so great. We're just now starting to see some of the numbers come back to the beaches. We saw a real real dip in the amount of mother's coming to lay eggs in the past and now we're seeing some of that come back. We've been at it so long and to be able to even see any kind of progress you really need to be in this for at least a decade, on at least one location to get an idea of what how many are coming back and and we don't tag them either. We don't touch the mothers at all, what we do is we'll let the mother do her thing, lay the eggs, we’ll remove the eggs, we'll put them into our hatchery and we monitor the hatchery with temperature and community of its a sterile environment gone away from any indigenous or non-indigenous presentation and then we monitor the temperature very closely so we can get out mostly females. And what that does is that gives us an 86.4% hatch rate which in the wild is about 3% to &, it's just visibly low but we're like I said we were able to get that hatch rate way up there and helping to mitigate a lot of the lot of losses of sea turtles that occur with not only the ingestion of plastic in the sea but also all the fishing nets and other hazards the adult sea turtles find within their lifespan.
Tyler: This is a wonderful thing that you're doing for funeral service and and in the revenue that's created helping sea turtles as well. Rob if the listener wanted to get in touch with you get more information about how their memorial could be a living reef where would they get in touch?
Rob: Well I recommend first www.livingreefmemorial.com, go to the website there's a lot of information there. Of course we always welcome clients to call us directly 1-800-569-7333 (REEF) and our specialists are here to assist the client in every way possible. We pride ourselves on, we get it, we've all had loss in our lives, this firm has, I'm no stranger to it, so we understand, we treat every client as if they're our family and I think our testimonials can prove that.
Tyler: We've talked about me going out there one day with with you Rob out to the islands or out on the water at least and I hope we can make it happen sooner rather than later.
Rob: I invite you to come with us any time Mr. Fraser, honestly this will be an experience you will never forget it is profoundly moving.
Tyler: Certainly Rob, thanks for being on the show.
Rob: Thank you, have a wonderful afternoon.
Tyler: Listeners, thanks again for taking the time to listen to Amazing Departures Podcast. I'm Tyler Fraser, until next time.