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Sea Burials; an affordable and eco-friendly alternative for families in Hawaii

Reverend Bodhi Be has been officiating sea burials since 2012

By: Adara Pineda

10 April 2019

It’s early in the morning and the calm clear blue waters that lick along Maui’s picturesque seashores promise favorable weather conditions. For many, this means a perfect day to relax on the beach or head out into the water for a surf session on the island’s famous North Shore.

 

But for Reverend Bodhi Be, it is a day for healing.

 

He looks to the ocean from the boat carrying him, a family and the body of a passed loved one offshore, miles into the Pacific Ocean.

 

From the time a family approaches Be to arrange a sea burial for a loved one, all his energy is focused on making sure the process is nothing but smooth sailing.

 

“I want to make sure it works, it goes smoothly,” Be said. “And number two, I want to do my best (so) that the family has a good and deep experience.”

The Death Store located in Maui Haiku-Pauwela, Hawaii (Photo Courtesy of Bodhi Be)

Unlike traditional cemetery burials, the body only needs to be preserved and prepared for an ocean body burial. Families can choose to put the body in an environmental friendly casket, no casket, or wrapped in a cloth. Environmental Protection Agency officials recommend non-casket bodies to be wrapped in a cloth.

 

However, Be takes care of everything–including the boat and ceremony.

 

“I’m talking to the captain of the boat, and I’m looking at the ocean condition, and I’m tuning in and talking to the family, and whatever else you know, feels like the right thing to do,” Be said. “I want everyone to feel comfortable you know.”

 

Throughout his years of service in the funeral industry, Be has approached this delicate process with an eco-conscious mindset.

In 2006, Be co-founded the nonprofit Doorway Into Light, Hawaii’s only certified green funeral home, which is located on Maui. With his team of volunteers, they also operate The Death Store, which provides educational resources for those who are seeking help dealing with a life threatening illness or grieving the death of a loved one.

Each year only a handful of people have gone to the nonprofit for sea burials. Be believes that sea burials would become a more common choice if more people knew about it.

 

“As more and more people find out that it's legal and acceptable and really low impact environmentally–and especially as more of the surfing, sailing, and fish community people find about it, I'm sure they'll increase,” Be said.

 

The claim that his burial services are environmentally friendly checks out.

Bodhi Be Executive Director and Co-Owner of the Doorway Into Light 

(Photo Courtesy of Bodhi Be)

“The environmental evaluation pretty much concluded that individual whole body burials or scattering of ashes, human remains– there’s minimal to no environmental impact,” said Allan Ota, an oceanographer at the EPA.

 

To conduct a sea burial, families need to obtain a permit from the EPA, which Be does for the families himself. The sea burial also has to be conducted three miles from shore.

 

However, if the body is cremated, no permit is needed to scatter the ashes.

 

The costs of burying a loved one has also influenced people's decisions regarding what they are going to do with a deceased loved one’s remains.

 

A sea burial funeral with Doorway Into Light costs around $2,500 in total, while a land burial ceremony can run for thousands of dollars.

Due to Hawaii’s limited real estate, the costs of graves plots for land burials are expected to rise over the next few years, according to Scott Power, president of Oahu Cemetery and Crematory.

 

“I don't know about the near future, but in the maybe not-too-distant future, I think the cost of body burial plots is going to continue to rise,” he said. “It's going to be more and more expensive to do body burials as opposed to cremation.”

 

Recently, there has been a nationwide trend of people opting for burial alternatives, such as cremation due to its low cost. In a study by the National Funeral Directors Association, about 72.2 percent of funeral services in Hawaii were cremations in 2015—the fifth highest percentage in the United States. Washington state led ranked first for the most cremations that year.

 

Cremation in Hawaii is projected to rise to 86.6 percent by 2035, the NFDA reported. In 2015, the Oahu Mortuary renovated 3 of their crematory chambers, which is the largest crematory facility in Hawaii.

 

The simple cremation package at Oahu Mortuary, costs $895 and includes basic services for the funeral. Including a funeral director, transportation of the body, and a standard urn.

 

For people interested in scattering ashes over the ocean, Captain Kenneth Middleton has been in the business for over 30 years with his company Hawaii Ash Scattering.

During his years of experience, Middleton says the beauty of the ocean, whales, and dolphins draw people to choose this alternative.

 

“It’s all special, it’s a beautiful environment settings,” Middleton said. “It’s a place where people look forward to returning… It draws people to that you have an excuse to get out there.”

 

Middleton’s Oahu packages range from  $495 to $7,395, according to his website.

 

Planning for the death of a loved one can be challenging, so Middleton suggests that people plan early.

 

“Make sure they have their affairs in order, make sure they have a will, make sure they have a trust,” he explained. “So many families are afraid to talk about death, but hey, you know what, we’re all going to die—it's better to have it all spelled out when you're in good health.”

Be conducting a sea burial (Photo Courtesy of Bodhi Be)

Note: this story contains non-graphic images of death.

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