Tarpon Springs, Florida, is a one-stop shop for all things sponges. Sea sponges, that is—not the synthetic scrubbers you use to clean your dishes.
Spongeorama Sponge Factory, which claims to contain the world’s largest collection of natural sea sponges, also houses a small museum and movie theater. The educational exhibits are perfect for anyone seeking to soak up information about the squishy sea animal (yes, sea sponges really are animals).
The factory’s colossal collection is no surprise, as the factory and museum are within the self-proclaimed “sponge capital of the world.” The Florida city has largely dominated the sea sponge scene since the early 20th century, when a man named John Cocoris introduced mechanized methods for harvesting the aquatic animals.
Cocoris, a Greek man, recruited divers from his native country. They spearheaded an industry that generated millions of dollars each year. Diving and harvesting became one of Florida’s leading maritime industries up until 1940, when a blight caused the sponge population to dramatically decline. Thankfully, the species has since recovered and the sponge harvesting business is once again booming.
Tarpon Springs has embraced both its industrial and cultural heritages. In addition to Spongeorama Sponge Factory, it boasts historic sponge docks and sponge diving boats that are open to tourists. The city, which has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States, pays homage to Greece via its architecture, cuisine, and traditions.
Update as of January 2020: Unfortunately, the museum found in the gift shop is currently closed due to hurricane damage. There is no current timetable for reopening as the damage to the exhibits is rather extensive.
Know Before You Go
The GPS coordinates and address lead to Spongeorama Sponge Factory. Note that as of April 2018 the museum inside the factory-store was closed until further notice due to damage from a recent hurricane.