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

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

The Sponge Capital of the World

In March of 1998, my mother and I drove from Houston, Texas, to Englewood, 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. It breaks up the trip and informs us about the areas of the country in which we are passing.

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

Greek-American Community

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 portrays the area just naturally had an abundant supply of natural underwater sponges growing there. But with the Greek influence, how they were harvested took a different turn.

visiting-the-sponge-capital-of-the-world--tarpon-springs--florida

Sponge Diving Industry

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 utilized to gather sponges in deep waters. Some of the young Greek sponge divers took a deep breath and dove down into more shallow waters without any such encumbrances. Their payment earnings were according to the number of sponges they were able to harvest.

I remember thinking that the hearts and lungs of those divers would have been in fantastic shape to accomplish what they did underwater, all the while holding their breaths. It was a dangerous job, but there were many willing participants. There were thousands of them!

Deep Treasure

I still own a first edition book, Deep Treasure, written and signed by Charles Minor Blackford III, 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 III. 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.

Today in Tarpon Springs

A red tide of algae pretty well wiped out the sponge industry in that part of Florida in the late 1940s, but fortunately, the natural sponges are once again growing, and harvesting takes place in that area.

What the sponge fishermen did in the interim period was turn to catching shrimp and fish. 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 as well as learning about Greek culture, this is the place! 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 purchased 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 several 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.

Location of Tarpon Springs in Florida

Sources:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 09, 2020:

Hi George,

I am pleased that you found this article informative. If you ever get the chance to visit Tarpon Springs, Florida, I think you would enjoy seeing the many natural sponges on display and for sale.

George on October 09, 2020:

Never thought about natural sponges. Thanks for the informative article.

Robert Sacchi on August 12, 2018:

One of the caverns in the San Antonio area has the same effect.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 12, 2018:

Hi Robert,

I cannot say that I have although the first thing that popped into my head was The Cosmos in South Dakota. It does attract many tourists and the odd gravity in that location does amaze visitors. I wrote about that some time ago. My husband also visited it when he was a child. So I guess many people traveling through South Dakota are drawn to that location due to advertising.

Robert Sacchi on August 11, 2018:

Did you ever fall into a "tourist trap"?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 11, 2018:

Hi Robert,

It is true that we discovered Tarpon Springs because of our doing a road trip. We might not have discovered this interesting Florida town had we not been passing nearby. As to losing Charles, it was truly a hard time in my life. His parents and I stayed in touch until both of them died.

Robert Sacchi on August 11, 2018:

This article points out one of the advantages of driving. This seems to be one of those places people from out of state wouldn't know about unless they drove by or read an article such as yours. Sorry about the loss of your boyfriend. it had to be a terrible shock.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 03, 2013:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 03, 2013:

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 from Maryland on March 03, 2013:

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

moonlake from America on March 03, 2013:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 09, 2013:

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.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on February 09, 2013:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 30, 2012:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 30, 2012:

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 from Southern Georgia on July 30, 2012:

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

Mary Hyatt from Florida on July 29, 2012:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 01, 2011:

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.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on December 01, 2011:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 24, 2011:

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 on February 24, 2011:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 14, 2010:

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. :-)

Florida Collection Agency on September 14, 2010:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 15, 2010:

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!

Ron T on August 15, 2010:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 27, 2010:

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 from Tampa Bay on July 27, 2010:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 24, 2009:

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 on October 23, 2009:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 03, 2009:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 03, 2009:

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

Jerilee Wei from United States on May 03, 2009:

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

Laila Rajaratnam from India on May 03, 2009:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 20, 2009:

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 from Canada's 'California' on April 20, 2009:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 19, 2009:

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 from Saint Louis, MO on April 19, 2009:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 19, 2009:

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.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on April 19, 2009:

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

Iphigenia on April 18, 2009:

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 from Philippines on April 18, 2009:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 18, 2009:

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

kiran8 from Mangalore, India on April 18, 2009:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 18, 2009:

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

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on April 18, 2009:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 18, 2009:

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

Pete Maida on April 18, 2009:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 18, 2009:

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 from Los Angeles on April 18, 2009:

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