There was a time when the Bahamas were a hotbed of sponging activity.
Hundreds of ships harvested sponges from the islands’ crystal-clear waters, resulting in an export of over a million pounds in 1917 alone for use in homes around the world. Sponging brought good money to families that took part, and spongers could make a decent living diving for the aquatic invertebrates.
The sponging industry in the Bahamas briefly died in the late 1930s after a fungus wiped out the sponge beds, then saw a revival in the 1950s. There has been a push to renew and modernize the sponging industry over the last decade or so.
The real photo postcard below shows a sponge market in Nassau, Bahamas. Divers or spongers on a ship would harvest the sponges from the sea floor with a special tool: a long pole tipped with a cutting hook. The sponge would be cut above the base, leaving some of the creature behind, and the sponges would grow back within a few years.
Upon returning to port, the harvest would be unloaded, cleaned, sorted, and dried. Sponges could be sold once they were dry. Not much has really changed since then—the harvesting method is still about the same, though most often sponges are cut by someone on a ship and not by a diver.
As much as things have changed, one thing remains the same: the demand for Bahamas sponges is still high. They are a renewable resource that does extremely well in the waters off the islands, and, unlike synthetic sponges, they are biodegradable. They’re probably not quite as disgusting as the synthetic ones, too. Those suckers smell weird after the first use.
… I think I might need to go shopping.
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Thanks for reading, see you again soon for some more vintage images.
P.S. Have you visited the shop lately? You should.