Student-led startup designs underwater urns that double as oyster reefs

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

Resting Reefs

There’s a growing concern about the environmental impact of death – and rightfully so. 

Traditional burials demand vast amounts of land, heavily manicured gravesites, and use invasive and emissions-intensive materials like concrete and steel. On the other hand, while cremation requires less land, it releases an estimated 400kg of CO2 into the atmosphere for each body burned. 

Thankfully, innovators have begun to reimagine more sustainable burial methods. On land, several companies offer services that help turn your ashes into a tree. Now, underwater, a student-led startup, Resting Reef, has designed urns that can serve as oyster reefs. 

Students Louise Lenborg Skajem and Aura Elena Murillo Perez from London’s Royal College of Art (RCA), have developed a way to create artificial reefs from related ashes to provide an eco-friendly alternative to the burial industry while restoring endangered ecosystems. 

To create the underwater urn, ashes are mixed with a binder and crushed oyster shells from the food waste industry. The mixture is then used to 3D print urns that replicate oyster pods.

The pods mimic the natural growth process of ancient stromatolite reefs, offering the ideal habitat for oysters to grow and thrive on the rigged surface.

Individual pods can also be combined to create entire artificial reef-slash-cemeteries to bolster natural oyster reef numbers, which have dwindled by 85 per cent due to over-harvesting and climate change.

“Most people know that coral reefs are endangered, but oyster reefs are more important,” said Skajem.

According to the designers, they do not have access to actual human remains, so their composite prototype uses animal bones instead. Once their design is finalised, their idea is to install Resting Reefs with existing reef restoration programs worldwide. 

“We aim to have beautiful sites where people connect with nature and can visit their loved ones,” added Perez. “The sites will also be available for local people that wish to visit and learn more about how the reef is serving their coast.”

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

A digital content manager based in the Philippines, Kaycee Enerva has written for multiple publications over several years. A graduate of Computer Science, she exchanged a career in IT to pursue her passion for writing. She's slowly practicing sustainability through period cups, and eating more plant-based food.


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