It was a beautiful day for a drive over to the Gulf to visit the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. We started our day with lunch at Rusty Bellies waterfront restaurant, then headed out to learn about sponges.
The Sponge Docks area is filled with gift shops, all competing for business. Everyone we met seemed to know everything there was to know about sponges, and they wanted us to buy from them. But even with the sales pressure, it was not an unpleasant experience. We learned a lot about the local sponge industry. I ended up buying a small “sea wool” sponge, which had been cut from a much larger sponge.
Tarpon Springs was initially developed as a winter destination for wealthy northerners, but it was soon discovered that money could be made from harvesting the sponges growing in the Gulf. A thriving sponge industry developed and was firmly established by 1890.
Over the next few years, experienced divers from Greece were brought to the area to increase harvests. A large Greek community sprang up, and today, Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US. The town is now famous not only for the world’s finest sponges, but for some great Greek restaurants, markets, and bakeries.
We would come back to Tarpon Springs and probably will next year. It’s such an interesting place. The food was great, the shops had unique gifts, there were street musicians and artists. I took a few photos of bicycles that were decorated by a local artist and placed around on the streets a few years ago, making the already charming town a little more so.
Fun facts: A sponge is the skeleton of an aquatic animal, not a plant. Some sponges can pump 10,000 times their own size (volume) in water in one day. Some sponges are thought to live over 100 years.
Website: Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks