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

Updated on August 5, 2017
Peggy W profile image

The southern states have a charm all their own. From beaches to deserts there is a wide array of landscapes to please almost anyone!

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

The Sponge Capital of the World

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.

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.

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

As the photo of a sign taken by the waterfront portrays, 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.

Tarpon Springs Waterfront
Tarpon Springs Waterfront | Source

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.

Source

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.

The Greeks of Tarpon Springs: An Oral History Compilation

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.

Many sponges for sale in Tarpon Springs, Florida
Many sponges for sale in Tarpon Springs, Florida | Source

Today in Tarpon Springs

A red tide of algae pretty well wiped out the sponge industry in Tarpon Springs in the late 1940s, 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.

Look at the size of some of those sponges in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
Look at the size of some of those sponges in Tarpon Springs, Florida. | Source

Today this town 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.

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

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

Have you visited Tarpon Springs?

See results

Location of Tarpon Springs in Florida

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

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

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    • Peggy W profile image
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      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
      Author

      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
      Author

      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.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Peggy. Great Hub. We really do think a like. I have the same pictures of the sign on the docks and of John Cocoris. We have family not too far from Tarpon Springs so we have actually visited it many times over the years. It's a great community to stroll through and stop for some Greek food. I will add a link to this Hub into mine.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Randy,

      So nice that you had that experience with the steel hemeted sponge diver in Tarpon Springs back in 1967. The history of Greek sponge diving in that part of Florida is interesting. Am sure it has changed dramatically from that time to now. Thanks for your comment.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Mary,

      That is often what happens. People do not see the sites in their own backyard, so to speak. If you love Greek food, I think you would love visiting Tarpon Springs in Florida. It is a very interesting place in addition to its restaurants. Thanks for your comment, votes and the share.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia

      I visited Tarpon Springs as a teenager in 1967. I had the pleasure of going out on a sponge fishing boat to watch as a steel helmeted Greek diver went down to retrieve a sponge from the seafloor. Of course, he could have taken it down with him for all we knew but still, it was rather exciting for a young boy.

      Yes, at that time the sponges were scarce and the town was struggling along with the tourist and fishing industry keeping them afloat. I'll have to visit Tarpon Springs again soon to see how it has evolved. Enjoyed the read.

      SSSSS

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      You know, I have lived in S. Fl. since 1965, and have never been to Tarpon Springs! I've heard a lot about the sponge harvesting there. One of these days, I'll drive over there and take a look around. Sounds like an interesting place. I love Greek food!

      I voted this Hub UP, etc. and will share, Mary

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Gail,

      It is always interesting to know about places visited or planning to visit. Since you were in Tarpon Springs, Florida you would have seen all of the sponges on display and available for sale. Now you know a bit more about it's history. Thanks for your comment and votes.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      Great hub. My husband and I got to visit Tarpon Springs about 8 years ago when we in Florida to attend a wedding. We spent a delightful afternoon walking through the shops and having lunch. Didn't realize that it used to be the sponge capital of the world.

      Thanks for sharing this information. It was very interesting and I voted this hub hub except for funny.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Changed My Mind,

      Tarpon Springs in Florida is definitely worth a visit if you get back that way. It is a Greek community proud of the history of sponge diving.

      As to the book...that was a very difficult time in my life as you might imagine. I kept in touch with the Blackfords until they both died. Mr. Blackford preceded her and sadly, both of their children preceded their deaths. They were both fine individuals!

    • Changed My Mind profile image

      Changed My Mind 6 years ago

      Awesome hub, Peggy. I lived in Orlando for 2 years and never made it to Tarpon Springs. Truly wishing now that I had taken the time to go there.

      I love your writing style and I teared up with the story about the book that was left to you. So sweet.

      I'm gonna pop over and take a look at your website, gallery3.net. The linoleum cut art prints sounds very interesting!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Florida Collection Agency,

      Glad that you enjoyed reading about the Sponge Capitol of the World in Tarpon Springs. No...I've not seen the entire State of Florida and would enjoy seeing more of it someday. Around each and every turn of the road is another attraction or site worthy of exploration. Fun State to visit! Thanks for reading through some of my Florida hubs and leaving comments. :-)

    • profile image

      Florida Collection Agency 7 years ago

      Cool hub. It looks like you have seen the entire state of Florida. Great stuff.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Ron T,

      Thank you for this additional information about Tarpon Springs, Florida. I am sure that many people will want to take advantage of what the Sun Line Cruise offers by way of a ride and the great on-board history lesson. Had we known about it...it would have interested us! Thanks again!

    • profile image

      Ron T 7 years ago

      Tarpon Springs also offers a waterside view of the community from the Sun Line Cruise vessels docked along the Anclote River on Dodecanese Blvd. They offer a GREAT on-board history of the area, along with a tour of Anclote Island, and current aquaculture information. Nice ride, too.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello rebekahELLE,

      If we lived closeby to Tarpon Springs in Florida, we would be joining you in finding those great eating places near the sponge docks. The people we met did seem extra friendly! Thanks for the comment and happy to hear that you liked this hub.

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 7 years ago from Tampa Bay

      very nice hub about one of my favorite places! I live so close by that we go at least once a week, sometimes twice a week to eat the great Greek food at the sponge docks. It's such a fun atmosphere and there are many hidden treasures in the shops. I think what I love the most about Tarpon is the people, there is a huge Greek community here and they are a wondeful, warm people. You've written a very nice hub and the pics are great.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello RTalloni,

      So happy that this hub about Tarpon Springs, Florida brought back happy memories for you. Did you purchase any sponges? I still have some from our visit there. Thanks for the comment.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 8 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for this reminder of a great place that I visited with a favorite wonderful aunt in the early 70s!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Jerilee, You are so fortunate to be living in Florida with so many interesting places to visit. Just about every turn in the road is another attraction! When you visit Tarpon Springs, let me know your impressions, OK? Thanks for the comment.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Laila, Happy that you are enjoying these. Have many more to write... Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

      Live close enough to there to think about it being a nice day trip. Thanks for the hub!

    • Laila Rajaratnam profile image

      Laila Rajaratnam 8 years ago from India

      Peggy..great hub..I'm travelling places with your hubs!Thanks for taking me to places!:)

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Enelle, what a nice compliment! Maybe in my next life... It would be fun to travel, take photos and write about it... Thanks for this comment.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Wonderful hub...so much information! Loved it! You should be a travel writer lol...you have such interesting hubs :)

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Frieda, That is a coincidence! Next time you can purchase your own sponges as gifts for other people! LOL Thanks for the comment.

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 8 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      How cool is that! My friend Tracey went to visit there a few years back and brought me sponges and olive oil. I can't believe I've never been there myself. Everyone I know who's been there says it was fantastic! I really am going to have to go. Supposedly a great place to take the kids as well. Fantastic hub idea.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Melody,

      Hopefully you'll get to visit there someday.

      Hi Iphigenia,

      Isn't it amazing what we take for granted?

      Hello K@ri,

      Guess I have never checked the main Hubpages.com site. I'll look at it now. Thanks for the heads up!

      And thank you all three for your comments.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Peggy, Did you see this is one of the featured articles on the main HubPages.com site? Great Job!

    • profile image

      Iphigenia 8 years ago

      You make me want to go there - I have never heard of this place aand to be perfectly honest, never really thought about where natural sponges come from. Thanks for a great hub.

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 8 years ago from Philippines

      Great write-up. I'd surely love to visit this place. Nice hub.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks kiran8. Glad that you are enjoying my meanderings... Thanks as always for your comments.

    • kiran8 profile image

      kiran8 8 years ago from Mangalore, India

      Excellent write up ! you always come up with something interesting and unusual...

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Kari, Am sure you would enjoy it as we did. One of so many places in Florida worth a visit. Thanks for commenting!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Tarpon Springs sounds like a wonderful place to visit! I loved the video, the town looks lovely. I bet the food is fabulous. Thanks for the information!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Yes it was, Pete, and many lost their lives. Thanks for the comment.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 8 years ago

      This is a very descriptive hub. I remember stories of the sponge divers. It was a very dangerous job.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Greetings gourownway, Yes the Red Tide damaged the area for years but they have now recovered.

      BTW, I like your name and avatar! Thanks for commenting.

    • gourownway profile image

      gourownway 8 years ago from Los Angeles

      I like the hub, learned something new. Sounds like an interesting place to visit. Boy that Red Tide can do some destruction.