There was a time a little over a century ago when Tarpon Springs, Florida, was a flourishing city because of its sponge harvesting industry. In the early 1900s, 80 percent of the world’s sponge supply came from the warm Gulf of Mexico waters offshore from Tarpon Springs.
Sponge diving is a Greek tradition, and nearly all of the divers and boat operators were Greek immigrants who came to Tarpon Springs seeking work and a new home in America. Today the Greek community is still a major influence on the town.
I first visited Tarpon Springs 40 years ago, when the sponge business was still viable, and dozen’s of boats lined the dock, their masts and rigging reaching skyward. I remember eating at Pappas Restaurant and drinking ouzo (it’s an acquired taste). Today Pappas is gone, as are most of the boats.
Synthetic sponges have all but doomed the natural sponge market, and the sponge harvesting business is a shadow of its boom days a century ago. But sponge tourism still thrives, centered in shops and restaurants along the docks where the few remaining sponge boats tie up.