Our Florida trip kicked off with a visit to Tarpon Springs, World Headquarters for sponge diving. Who knew? I grew up in Florida and have used natural sponges on and off for years, so it was interesting to see where these suckers actually came from. I had no idea that the Sponge Docks In Tarpon Springs were such a tourist attraction! Boat tours go out on the hour to beautiful off shore islands where tour guides tell you the story of how sponge diving became such a popular profession back in the day (when scuba gear consisted of a large glass and metal fish bowl contraption placed over one’s head.) Today, sponge diving is more streamlined, and the docks are lined with painted boats weighed down by drying sponges. We decided to spend our time in Tarpon Springs exploring these islands as well as the famous docks. First stop: docks.
Sponges are actually organisms that live within the coral and sea anemones near the ocean floor. They don’t have circulatory or digestive systems or anything complicated – but allow ocean water to filter through them where they feast on bacteria and such. I know the thought of using these guys to clean yourself can sound somewhat gross, but they are dried and cleaned and perfectly natural. As far as being earth-friendly, they are in neutral territory. They are more earth-friendly than plastic or disposable sponges, but perhaps a little less green than organic wash cloths. Either way, the sponge diving history of this place is interesting.
There is one main road that runs parallel to the actual sponge docks (which are always crowded with boats.) The other side of the road is filled with street vendors, sponge shops and…Greek food?? Yep, you heard that right. Tarpon Springs is also the “Little Greece” of Southwest Tampa. Greek restaurants clutter the main streets off the sponge docks, along with the souvenir shops (of course) and homemade soap shops. After getting our fill of sponges, we popped into a cute soap shop called Get a Guru (mostly because the smells coming from inside were too yummy to ignore.) Handmade coconut soaps scented with rose, lavender, vertiver, lemongrass and many more delicious essential oils were stacked all over the store. The “shop” was set up in the back and was open to the store, so that you could actually see the soaps being made. Another fun detail: because the soaps are sold by weight, the soaps were all stamped with their price instead of using extra paper price tags or signs. We stocked up on rose soap (a personal weakness) and headed out for some breakfast and boat time!