Sponge Diving in Carrabelle and the North Gulf Coast of Florida

There is no charge for admission but donations are gladly accepted. The museum and exhibit are open Wednesdays 12-5 pm, Thursdays thru Saturdays 10 am – 5 pm and Sundays 12 – 5 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Carrabelle History Museum is located, one block from Carrabelle Harbor, at 106 SE Avenue B, Carrabelle, FL.  For more information, contact 850-697-2141.

Funded in part by the Franklin County Tourist Development Council.

The museum is honored to be the recipient of a welcome surprise of the loan of a fascinating artifact for the exhibit. A turn-of-the-century Greek sponge diving suit complete with helmet and weight belt has been loaned to the museum and is a fabulous addition to the sponge diving exhibit. The Sponge Diving exhibit also includes a recently donated authentic, brass sponge diving helmet used by a former local diver as well as a diorama of the sponge docks, early images and historical photos of Carrabelle’s sponge boats and local sponge divers plus a fascinating video of sponge diving.

After the sponge industry in Greece collapsed in the late 1800s, Greek divers brought their practices to Florida and created an extremely lucrative industry. Apalachicola, Tarpon Springs, and Key West emerged as top sponge trade ports. By 1900, Apalachicola was home to two sponge warehouses and employed around 100 men. Carrabelle developed a large sponge fleet of its own during that time. “By 1879, Carrabelle had the largest sponge fleet in Florida next to Key West”, according to David Shubow in the Tequesta: The Journal of the Historical Association of Southern Florida.

Small sailboats embarked on month-long harvesting trips in the northern Gulf. Each vessel carried several small dinghies. A pair of men worked each dingy with one man rowing as the other looked for sponges using a glass viewing box pressed against the surface of the water.

The arrival of diving technology in the early 1900s, the diving suit, brought more efficiency to harvesting. The diving suit enabled the men to walk along the sea floor to more quickly harvest sponges. By around the 1930s a combination of overharvesting, blight, and the invention of synthetic sponges led to the depletion of the sponge industry which virtually closed in this area at that time. In recent years sponge harvesting has made a bit of a comeback and locally-sourced sponges can once again be found in Franklin County.

Florida’s tough, soft sponges were considered to be some of the best in the world. Sponges from the northern Gulf were denser than other Florida sponges because of the colder water. Many of them were harvested just off of Dog Island.

Eventually “new” diving technology revolutionized the industry. Heavy brass helmets, diving suits, and weights – weighted belts and lead in the shoes would enable divers to walk along the sea floor. They would breathe through a long tube connected to the boat above. While this enabled divers to stay down longer and harvest more sponges it was also much more dangerous.

This exhibit will explore the history of sponge diving in Carrabelle and the area. Come and learn about the migration of Greek sponge divers to and from Carrabelle. This exhibit will include history photos of Carrabelle sponge boats and local sponge divers, an old, brass sponge diving helmet and more.

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