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Greek Sponge Diving Capital of the World in Tarpon Springs, Florida

Updated on September 20, 2016

Sponges in Tarpon Springs, Florida

Sponges in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Sponges in Tarpon Springs, Florida | Source

The Sponge Capital of the World...Tarpon Springs, Florida!

In March of 1998 my mother and I drove from Houston, Texas to Engelwood, Florida to visit my aunt and uncle who live there for about four months of every year. We often decide to take in some sights along the way to break up the trip and also become informed about the areas of the country in which we are passing.

This time we decided to explore the Tarpon Springs area which is known far and wide for being the Sponge Capital of the World.

It is located about 30 miles north of St. Petersburg.

According to legend, the name Tarpon Springs came about due to tarpon fish being spotted offshore jumping (springing) in and out of the water.

Signs at the Tarpon Springs waterfront

Informative sign by the waterfront in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Informative sign by the waterfront in Tarpon Springs, Florida | Source
Other side of sign
Other side of sign | Source

Sponge Diving in Tarpon Springs

The Greeks of Tarpon Springs: An Oral History Compilation

Maria Singing @ Zorba's - Tarpon Springs, FL

Tarpon Springs

It is a waterfront community made up of many inhabitants who originally came from Greece primarily for the sponge diving industry.

Today, Tarpon Springs has more Greek-Americans living there than in almost any other U.S. city.

As the photo of a sign taken by the waterfront says, the area just naturally had a huge supply of underwater natural sponges growing there. But with the Greek influence, how they were harvested took a different turn.

Sponge diving became the norm once the Greeks led by John M. Cocoris had a large enough contingent of hearty and well trained divers on hand to take over that sponge harvesting way of earning a living. It became a multi-million dollar industry.

Heavy helmeted diving suits with oxygen hoses were made available and were utilized for gathering sponges in deep waters. In addition some of the young Greek sponge divers simply took a deep breathe and dove down into more shallow waters without any such encumbrances.

Naturally they were paid according to the number of sponges they were able to harvest.

I remember thinking that the hearts and lungs of those able bodied divers would have had to have been in amazing shape to be able to accomplish what they did underwater all the while holding their breaths.

It was a dangerous job but there were many willing participants, in fact, thousands of them.

I still own a first edition book titled Deep Treasure written and signed by Charles Minor Blackford lll who wrote about "A story of the Greek Sponge Fishers of Florida ."

The book was published by The John C. Winston Company in 1954. Written in the author's hand was the inscription "To my boy - Charles Minor the lV From his devoted Daddy - Charles Minor Blackford lll. Feb, 1954 Author copy."

Mr. Blackford then wrote "And from him Post Mortem to the one I know he would like most to have it. (My maiden name) July 19, 1969."

Charles and I were dating and would probably have married had he not been killed in a Navy airplane crash in Pensacola, Florida.

Location of Tarpon Springs in Florida

A markerTarpon Springs, Florida -
Tarpon Springs, FL, USA
get directions

Tarpon Springs - Sponge Capitol of the World

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Numerous shops! My mother in front of the "Aegean Isles" Well known sponge diving boat from that area
Numerous shops!
Numerous shops! | Source
My mother in front of the "Aegean Isles"
My mother in front of the "Aegean Isles" | Source
Well known sponge diving boat from that area
Well known sponge diving boat from that area | Source

Tarpon Springs, Florida

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Look at the size of some of those sponges!The waterfront
Look at the size of some of those sponges!
Look at the size of some of those sponges! | Source
The waterfront
The waterfront | Source

Today in Tarpon Springs...

A red tide of algae pretty well wiped out the sponge industry in Tarpon Springs in the late 1940's, but fortunately the natural sponges are once again growing and being harvested in that area.

What the sponge fishermen did in the interim period of time was turn to catching shrimp and fish.

Tarpon Springs today has become a noted tourist area.

If you would like to learn more about natural sponges and the history of how they have been harvested, this is the place!

If you want to learn more about Greek culture, Tarpon Springs is also the place to learn more.

Many of the older Greek sponge divers are still available to talk to tourists in the many sponge shops which abound along the old waterfront area. My mother and I enjoyed visiting with several of them while I was purchasing some unusual and beautiful sponges for some of my art projects.

Greek restaurants abound. You can satisfy your taste buds with savory Greek dishes in a number of places.

We were happy that we stopped and explored Tarpon Springs. I know that I will never again look at a natural sponge without thinking of the harvesting process and all that it entails.

Short video showing why people are attracted to visiting Tarpon Springs

If you enjoyed this article, please take time to give it a star rating. Thank you!!!

5 out of 5 stars from 5 ratings of Tarpon Springs, Florida

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello shin rocka04,

      I see that you are from Maryland. If you ever travel south to Florida again, am pretty sure that you would enjoy visiting the historic place of Tarpon Springs. It has a unique character all its own. Thanks for your comment.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi moonlake,

      Nice to know that you have experienced the interesting town of Tarpon Springs in Florida. One of the fingerling sponges that I purchased there made it into the shadowbox featuring my linocut of a pelican which was shown in that hub titled Brown Pelican Pictures ~ Some Facts and Inspiration for my Linocut Art. The shadowbox is in our living room in a bookcase. So we both display things we purchased in Tarpon Springs in our homes. Nice memories! Thanks for your comment, vote + the share.

    • shin_rocka04 profile image

      shin_rocka04 4 years ago from Maryland

      Wow, this is actually pretty cool and very interesting. Might have to check out that another time I'm down South.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      I love Tarpon Springs I wish I was there right now, much better place to be than the 13 below here. I love the food there. The star fish you see in my bathroom hub came from Tarpon Springs. Voted up and Shared.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Bill,

      You have undoubtedly enjoyed Tarpon Springs many more times than we have since you have family living nearby. It has such an interesting history. It is certainly worth a stop if anyone is ever in that part of Florida. Thanks for your comment and reciprocal link in your well written hub about Tarpon Springs.

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