Tarpon Springs, population 25,000, is a small town with a big history. Located on Florida’s west coast, just north of Clearwater, the town sits on the Gulf of Mexico alongside an underwater treasure trove of sea sponges.
In fact, sea sponges put Tarpon Springs on the map back in the early 1900s when two men launched what would soon become a major sea sponge industry. It was John K. Cheyney who operated the first sponge fishing boat, using hooks to collect the sponges from the ocean floor. But the hooks often damaged the sponges.
Enter Greek immigrant John Cocoris, who began working with Cheyney and introduced him to sponge diving. Divers would retrieve the valuable sea sponges by hand, limiting damage to the goods. Soon, Cocoris brought many divers from his homeland in the Greek Islands to Tarpon Springs, and the business flourished.
Tarpon Springs’ natural sea sponges represented Florida’s biggest industry for some 30 years, bigger even than tourism or citrus fruits. And it continues to thrive today.
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