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USF Libraries Exhibits

The Sponge Industry: Introduction

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As the sponge beds gradually recovered from the blight of the late 1940s, sponge fishing continued on a limited basis from the 1950s until the mid-1980s. Then  in 1986, due to catastrophic sponge mortalities in the eastern Mediterranean, Tarpon Springs experienced a major revival supporting about 40 working boats. By 1996, cyclical red tides, water pollution, and other causes diminished the sponge industry to eight to ten boats working regularly, a handful of others working periodically, three major sponge distributors and a handful of smaller ones.

Despite cyclical red tides, currently there are sizeable quanities of large healthy sponges in the Gulf. Yet, the number of sponge fishermen continues to decline because sponges command a relatively lower price. Some of the technology has changed, but many aspects of sponge fishing remain the same today as in the past.