According to our crack research team, June is World Sponge Month. And you cannot think of sponges without thinking of Tarpon Springs. In fact, did you know that Tarpon Springs is the “Sponge Capital of the World”?
We suggest a road trip is in order.
The Epicenter of Spongedom
Harvesting and processing sponges has been going on in Tarpon Springs for better than a century. It remains the world’s largest natural sponge producing industry – supplying 70% of the natural sponges around the globe.
Many as 18 different species of sponges can be found in the Gulf waters near Tarpon Springs. The wool sponge is the most desired because it is soft and durable. It’s not susceptible to odors or mildew.
The yellow sponge is a bit less durable but very functional. They last about a year. Then there’s the wire sponge – abrasive and often used for manufacturing.
The bay sponge – also known as the flowerpot sponge – actually can be used to grow a plant or seed.
Where to go
Most of these can be found at the The Tarpon Sponge Company. Located at the corner of the Tarpon Sponge Exchange, it has its origin back in 1911, when Emmanuel Klimis brought his sponge harvesting skills from Greece to Florida. His son Harry established the shop and now Harry’s daughter Athena runs it.
There are many specialty shops on the Sponge Docks that purvey sponges and souvenirs, However, one would be hard pressed to find a place that has a better selection of sponges, or anybody who knows more about the varieties and quality than Athena at the Tarpon Sponge Company. The sponges continue to come in each day, with boats carrying huge bundles that need to be sorted and processed.
It’s More Than Sponges
But there’s more than sponges at Tarpon Springs. It has made our list of some of the most romantic locations in Florida.
There also are great events – such as the annual observation of Epiphany. Each year there’s a blessing of the sponge fleet, the ceremonial release of the dove, a mad scramble as young men dive into the water to retrieve a cross thrown in the Bayou by the Bishop and a large Greek festival that runs the balance of the day and into the night.
It was Greeks who came to settle the area and ply their skills harvesting sponges. Their influence remains to this day. There are some of the best Greek restaurants in the state all huddled together along Dodecanese Boulevard. Not only are there great Greek dishes served in the Mediterranean style, there also are delicious Greek bakeries with all manner of tasty treats.
If you never have experienced the wonderfulness of the Greek culture – and real Gulf sponges, a trip to Tarpon Springs should be pn your bucket list. You can walk the docks, dine in the restaurants and take one of the many boat tours out onto the Gulf. It is a truly unique experience and is a definite Florida Fun Travel vacation destination.