Each week on Tuesday and Friday, an auction is held at the Sponge Exchange in Tarpon Springs. The offering is spread out and the buyers gather around, among them representatives of all the great drug stores of the world.

Sponges In Our Own Front Yards

You who know of our Wall Street Stock Exchange and attend an occasional and excited session of the Produce Exchange,” writes Steven B. Ayers, in “The National Marine,” “may not be aware that here in Tarpon Springs, a little town of three thousand people on the Gulf Coast of Florida, is the only Sponge Exchange in these United States.”

But such is the fact, the writer declares. And this is how it happened that the country can even boast of one Sponge Exchange:

“Years ago, about thirty years ago, we used to import into America from the Mediterranean, about two million dollars in value each year in sponges. Those were all the sponges used in America, because we produced none here. But once in a while some fisherman would bring in here a poor specimen of sponge he had discovered growing on some rock and had been able to reach at low tide. Soon thereafter the sharp-eyed experts of the Fish Commission noticed that the blue water of the Gulf here had all the wonderful hues of the Mediterranean and that it was the same in temperature. But where the Gulf differed was in the fact that the Gulf had very little rock exposed. Now sponges insist on growing by attaching themselves to rocks on the bottom and to try the sponge experiment it was necessary to produce an artificial bottom in this portion of the Gulf.

“Some problem! But it was finally solved by the manufacture of some millions of pottery discs, impregnating them with the sponge spawn and sowing them broadcast into the hospitable waters. The experiment succeeded. The sponges liked their new homes and gradually extended into the rocks they discovered for themselves in the deeper waters. And now, each year, the fishermen bring into this little port and there are sold on the exchange floor here, sponges of a value of about one and a half million-more than half we use. About twenty years ago it was discovered that the better sponges came from the deeper water and so Greek divers were imported. There are about twelve hundred Greeks here, all earning a fair livelihood and adding each year to our national wealth.

“On Greek Cross Day, which is the 19th of January, all the boats engaged in the sponge fishing are drawn up in the wharf in the Anclote River or anchored out in the lee of the Anclote Keys, one of the best and safest anchorages on the west coast. They are all here because this is the great feast day of the church in Florida. It is New Year Day. At 11 o’clock the hierarch will throw into the bayou a golden cross. The deep water divers will be gathered from far and near. To the lucky man who finds the cross at the bottom and brings it to the priest goes the blessing of the prelate and a hat full of silver. If it be a young lad, the reward may be a four year scholarship.

“Gulf storms are at times energetic. The live sponge looks, attached to a rock at the bottom, like a great blob of liver, raw liver. When a diver has identified it and cut it from its support, the sponge is hauled on board and thrown on the decks there to be killed. When the animal is thoroughly defunct the flesh is allowed to putrefy and then the animal part is washed away. What is left is the sponge of commerce.

“The sponge fleet here numbers about two hundred vessels, varying in tonnage-all small boats compared with even coastwise freighters, but far more picturesque. In fact, it seems doubtful whether in other waters of America there is so picturesque a fleet. The caravels of Columbus were no more curious. The curling bows and sterns, the highly colored hulls, the brightly tinted sails!

Source: New York Tribune: 6-16-1918

Transcribed, Formatted and Submitted by Linda Flowers

This Page Created January 14, 2013
Copyrighted 2013-   Linda Flowers
Return To: Pinellas Home     Return To: FLGW