Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Manatees and Sponges Oh My

Over 700 manatees gather near this power plant
during the winter.

Kent, Joanie, Scott and I bundled up for the cold.


We're just finishing up a great visit with my first cousin Joanie and her husband Kent in St. Petersburg, FL. We arrived on Monday and spent 4 nights with them. Our first day we went to see the manatees south of Tampa at an enormous Power Plant. Employees there feed the manatees with lettuce as there are no natural foods for them in the area, certainly not for the numbers that gather here to survive the cold days of winter. This is a big tourist attraction with enormous parking lots and hundreds of people. Piers and viewing towers have been built to accommodate everyone.  

Mary, Heather and Joanie

On Saturday we went up to Clearwater to visit Joanie's older sister Mary. She made a wonderful Sunday dinner for us, sparking memories of the meals their mother and mine made every Sunday. We watched an exciting playoff game where the NY Giants beat the Vikings. 

On Sunday we spent the day in Tarpon Springs. The sponge industry here began in the 1880s and utilized long poles with hooks in boats to collect the sponges. But in 1905, John Cocoris introduced the technique of sponge diving by recruiting divers and crew members from Greece. The sponge industry soon became one of the leading maritime industries in Florida and generated millions of dollars a year. But in 1947 a red tide algae bloom wiped out the fields and resulted in a switch towards shrimping, although the sponges gradually recovered and there is still a small active sponging industry. 

John, the diver, has his helmet fitted on by two
crewmembers, both of whom worked as divers
themselves for over 30 years.

John is slowly lowered over the side. The equipment
weighed 175 pounds!

 The town has a very Greek feel to it as many of the residents are descendants of the Greek immigrants that flocked here to work in the industry. A big Greek Orthodox Cathedral is up on the main avenue. Gift shops and restaurants line the street along the river on one side and on the other the working fishing boats and others that take tourists out on trips. We signed up with the St. Nicolas Boat Line for a trip down the river and a live demonstration of the diving technique used years ago. The Captain is a third generation descendent of a Greek diver that came over in the late 1800s. The diver works as a sponge diver on the boats and occasionally does demonstrations of the old equipment. The boat itself was built in Tarpon Springs and is a duplicate of those used in Greece. 

John poses with us before the trip.

A charming fountain with statues downtown.

We had a wonderful authentic Greek meal at the Hellas Restaurant & Bakery. We lucked out and got a table before the line stretched out onto the sidewalk, but it was a long line later to get some amazing pastries at the bakery next door! Today we head south again, first for lunch with Scott's High School friend Emily and her husband  John in Venice and then on to see our cruiser friend Barbara in Bonita Springs. 

The Hellas Restaurant where we had 

Sunday dinner at Mary's with her friend Jim,
Kent taking the picture.

We didn't need to utilize this service. Joanie and 
I were out of the gift shops before the men!

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