Tarpon Springs – The Natural Sponge Capital of the World

Lying almost on the same longitude as the Bahamas, Florida is home to one of the nicest climates in the United States. It is also home to many national parks including the Everglades, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its vast populations of birds and reptiles. If a trip to the USA is on your bucket list, Florida should be at the forefront of your mind. On top of the well known bustling tourist spots, Florida is also home to a collection of small, quaint and historically important towns that one should take the time to visit. One such location is Tarpon Springs. Found on the west coast, not far from Tampa, Tarpon Springs sits on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico and is around a 45-minute drive south of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

A small town with a population of under 25,000, Tarpon Springs is famous for its sponge industry and subsequent relationship with Greece, which stems from the recruitment of Greek divers and crewmen in the early 20th century. Named after the fish that abound its waters, Tarpon Springs boasts a historic downtown district with well-preserved buildings dating back to the 1800s. Known for its community of artisans, in addition to beautifully crafted sponges, the town is famous for its soaps, which together make a great exfoliating combo!

Worker at Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs
A Happy Worker at Sponge Docks | Flickr: visitstpeteclearwater
Sponge docks
Painting at Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs | Flickr: walterpro

The town was founded in the early 1880s and quickly became a hub for one of the largest sponge industries in the world. As previously mentioned, divers and crew were recruited from Greece when the sponge trade began to boom in the early 20th century and at the height of the industry, there were up to 200 vessels trawling the waters. An unfortunate instance of red tide algae wiped out many of the sponge beds and this lead to a massive reduction in the industry, however, this picked up again in the 80s and the sponge industry is alive and well today, albeit somewhat smaller than it once was. Thanks to its early Greek immigrants, Tarpon Springs is home to the highest percentage of Greek-Americans anywhere in the United States. Interestingly one of its main roads, Dodecanese Avenue is named after the Dodecanese Islands in Greece where many of the divers were from. Head down to the Sponge docks to learn more about their history and dine on delicious Greek cuisine at one of the many Greek restaurants there.

The Gulf of Mexico provides a fantastic arena for water sports and Tarpons Springs is home to many beautiful beaches where you can relax and take in the warm Florida sun. Of note are Sunset Beach and Fred Howard Park, which are voted the fifth and second-best attractions in Tarpon Springs on Trip Advisor. Once you have explored the historical sights and taken in the sun, head to one of the many bayous that border the city where you will have the chance to see alligators, birds and if you’re lucky a manatee or two!

Divers Hat in a Tarpons Springs Sponge Shop
Old Divers Hat | Flickr:psyberartist
Baby Alligator, Tarpon Springs
Baby Alligator in a Bayou | Flickr: Marc Barrison