Diving for Sponges- How it all works...
Diving for sponges is a very difficult task and it's not something that many can do. Luckily most divers love being underwater and so this gives them a means to an end. But frankly sponge diving and harvesting is very difficult and was featured on Discovery Channel's series Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. You can read about it here: https://freshfromflorida.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/dirty-jobs-goes-sponge-diving/
Our divers here in Tarpon Springs pack up the boat christened St. Nicholas with food, water and supplies and head out into the Gulf of Mexico. The captain uses his experience and knowledge of good sponge beds to settle into the right areas. He puts on his scuba gear and takes a net and knife down into the ocean depths with him. While the diver is under water the boat is steered to follow the divers line.
The diver finds his sponges and uses his expert knowledge to recognize in the darkness of the ocean which sponges are of use and which are not to be bothered. He cleanly slices from the base the ones he's interested in. The substrate left behind allows the sponge to regrow. He'll be able to harvest that spot again in a few years. The net he's taken down with him eventually fills and he sends it to the boat. He stays under while he waits for another net to be sent down. It's not unusual for a diver to be underwater for 3-5 hours at a time. Of course, that depends on the depth and temperature of the water and how well he has done.
The deckhands keep busy when sponges are sent up by starting the cleaning process. They hose down the sponges and pile them together and cover them in burlap sheets that are wet down with salt water. The heat of the sun and the salt water helps do some of the work for them. After a couple of days and once the matter is decayed off, the sponges are washed and rinsed of all remaining matter.
Eventually, the deck is filled with sponges and the crew has no more room to work. How do they make more room out in the middle of the Gulf on a boat with limited deck space? Well, they string the sponges into a garland, threading them through with an industrial size needle and twine. Then they are hung or piled up as high as possible and out of the way.
The days are long for the captain and crew, and nights aren't much better out in the middle of a body of water for 10-21 days at a time. Sponge harvesting isn't easy.