TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. (WFLA) — Tarpon Springs is known as the “Sponge Capital of the World,” where most of the world’s natural sponges come from.
The industry began to grow in the 1890s when Greek sponge divers settled after natural sponge beds were discovered. You can find the natural sponges in almost every single gift shop in town.
Sponge Diver Tasos Karistinos has called Tarpon Springs home for decades and has been sponge diving since the 1970s.
“It is the river, it is the water, it is the tour boats, it is the sponges. I like it because clean air, fresh fish,” Karistinos said.
It is not just the sponge docks that keep people coming back but also the locally-owned restaurants with Greek cuisine.
“It’s no different than being 5,000 miles away on Kalymnos Island… the good Greek food, eating out of the ocean and just being happy,” Yianni’s Greek Restaurant Owner Mike Koursiotis said.
Yianni’s is named after Koursiotis’ late father who was a sponge diver. The family opened the restaurant to make a living after Yianni Koursiotis got decompression sickness, also known as the Bends, in 1978.
Right down the road from the little Greek village, you can find the Tarpon Springs Aquarium. The aquarium is family owned and operated, and provides families with a hands-on experience when it comes to learning about wildlife. You can pet turtles and stingrays, and watch shows.
For this town, being close to the water is what several locals say gives it its charm.
“We still have that southern charm because we are a southern city and I think that’s what makes Tarpon Springs so unique,” Koursiotis said.
With so much culture to soak up, you can find more places to check out in Tarpon Springs on Visit Florida’s website.