March 2012
In This Issue
View from the Bow: Upcoming Events
View from the Stern: The Sponge Trade
At the Helm: Certified Green Guide Wesley Hagler
Recent Events

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The historic sponge exchange building in Apalachicola, which still stands downtown. 




Apalachicola sponge warehouse.  Sponges were pressed into burlap-wrapped bales for shipment as seen on the horse-drawn cart.




This boat was built in Apalachicola in 1935 and was used for sponge harvesting at Tarpon Springs.  The U.S. Navy also used her as an air-sea rescue boat in the gulf during World War II.



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Join Us on an Educational Estuary Cruise

We are now offering our educational estuary cruises Monday-Saturday at 1 p.m., provided we have favorable weather and captain availability.  


This tour gets you back to nature as you explore the diversity of life along the river and estuary.  The Apalchicola River basin is one of the most biodiverse, productive and economically  important aquatic systems in the United States.  


Marsh grasses, swamp lilies, wildflowers, and cypress trees draped with Spanish moss provide a scenic backdrop for herons fishing, ospreys feeding their young, bald eagles soaring, and alligators slipping under the surface of the water.   Dolphins fishing for mullet also frequent the river. 


The Starfish Enterprise is equipped with tables, comfortable seating, and restroom.  Feel free to bring a picnic lunch, drinks, or snacks to enjoy on your cruise.  
Advance reservations are required by calling 850-653-2500, or booking online.  
View from the Bow: Upcoming Events


Saturday, April 21: Antique and Classic Boat Show Dinner & Lecture


We are pleased to be hosting the dinner and lecture as part of Apalachicola's 14th annual Antique and Classic Boat Show this year. 


Tickets for the dinner are $25. Details to be announced. 

Call 850-653-9419 for reservations.


For more information on the weekend of events, please visit the boat show website. 


doryView from the Stern

The Sponge Trade: 

Resurrecting an Historic Industry



The sponge industry began in Franklin County after extensive sponge grounds  were discovered in the clear, shallow waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico between St. Marks and Cedar Key. In the late 19th century, spongers and boat builders operated out of Apalachicola, Carrabelle, Cedar Key, and Tarpon Springs.


The first sponge vessels were sent from Apalachicola in 1870.  The industry quickly became Apalachicola's most lucrative fishery.  By 1895, there were two sponge warehouses here and approximately 100 men employed by this industry.


The vessels of the Apalachicola fleet were typically small schooners, which would spend about a month on each harvesting trip. There were 16 boats in the fleet in 1879, with combined crews totaling 84 men.  Each vessel carried a few small dinghies, usually locally-built boats from 12-15 feet in length.  Two men worked each dinghy, one slowly sculling the boat as the other sited and hooked the catch.  Sponge glasses were used to view the sea floor.  These were wooden boxes or buckets with a glass bottom, often worn around the neck.  Placed on the surface of the water, a person looking through the glass could more clearly spot sponges on the bottom.  Sponges were brought to the surface with a long-handled, three-pronged iron hook. 


Upon arrival back at port, the sponges were unloaded onto the wharf and purchased by a sponge dealer, who sold almost exclusively to New York buyers. 


By this time, the sponge fishery was centuries-old in Greece, and diving suits had been used there since 1865.  As the sponge industry in Greece reached its plateau, its divers sought opportunity abroad.  Many settled in Florida, bringing diving technology with them to Apalachicola in 1904.  This more efficient and lucrative harvesting technique quickly became standard practice.  Divers would walk along the sea floor, weighed down by a weight belt and connected to a 100-foot long air tube.  A knife was used to harvest the the sponges by slicing them off near the base.


Commercial sponge harvesting between Cape San Blas and St. Marks reopened in recent years after being closed since the 1930's.  Today, the Apalachicola Sponge Company deals in sponges harvested in nearby waters.  Modern sponge divers still use the air hose method pioneered by Greek divers in the 19th century.  Sustainable harvesting methods, based on an understanding of the biology of these marine animals, are used.  Sponges can no longer be hooked.  Instead, they are cut about an inch from the bottom, leaving tissue that can regenerate.  Divers also squeeze the sponges after cutting to release the spores by which they reproduce. 


Florida's tough, soft sponges are considered to be some of the best in the world. They are sold both domestically and internationally for a variety of uses, the most popular of which is bathing.  They are also used for industrial, medical, and artistic purposes.  Recognized as being much stronger, more durable, and more absorbent than synthetic sponges, people around the world are once again discovering the benefits of natural sponges from Apalachicola's market.


At the Helm

Certified Green Guide Wes Hagler  


Captain Wesley Hagler is the newest member of our crew. 


Wes is a graduate of Florida State University and is also a Certified Green Guide with extensive knowledge of the panhandle's ecosystems and wildlife.  He captains many of our educational estuary tours and will also lead guided kayak trips. 


In addition, Wes is an experienced boat builder who is enthusiastic about being involved with our youth boat building programs this spring and summer.


Originally from Clearwater, Wes has also lived in Fort Myers, Tallahassee, and on the Wakulla River.  He was drawn to the panhandle by the opportunities for enjoying the large number of protected natural areas.  He finds Apalachicola especially appealing for its rich history and access to a variety of ecosystems including the river, estuarine areas, bay, islands, and gulf.  When not out on the water, Wes also enjoys biking, woodworking, hiking, and spending time with his three children.


To book an estuary cruise or kayak rental, give us a call at 850-653-2500 or book online.


Recent Events
A Great Kickoff to our Spring Lecture Series

Franklin Price, Senior Archaeologist with the Florida Department of State's Bureau of Archaeological Research, gave a fascinating talk on March 10.  The topic was the Flintlock Site, an underwater archaeological site on the Apalachicola River.  Researchers found a large concentration of prehistoric and historic artifacts deposited over time, including iron fasteners, metal tools and implements, broken glass bottles, stone projectile points, scattered bricks and stone blocks, large fragments of a wooden watercraft, a bayonet, a copper arrowhead, and flintlock gun barrels.  Investigative methods used by the underwater archaeological team were also discussed. 

On March 17, award-winning author and kayak enthusiast Doug Alderson, whose books include Waters Less Traveled: Exploring Florida's Big Bend Coast, Encounters with Florida's Endangered Wildlife, Wild Florida Waters, and Seminole Freedom gave a talk about paddling opportunities and endangered wildlife in the area.  


Alderson is the Florida Paddling Trails Coordinator for Florida's Office of Greenways and Trails. He recently finished a three-year project scouting theFlorida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, a 1,500-plus mile sea kayaking trail around the entire state.


We now have several of Alderson's books available in our gift shop.