For thousands of years, humans have relied on natural resources in everyday life and hygiene. The sea sponge is no exception! In Faith Warn’s book, Bitter Sea: The Real Story of Greek Sponge Diving, she discusses how:
“Images of sponges have been found on Greek pottery remains, as a depiction of opulence and as a status symbol. Homer lists sponges as hygienic tools in the Iliad and the Odyssey, while Aristotle makes reference to an elephant nose-like tube that divers used to use when fishing for sponges. A number of Roman writers, such as Cicero, allude to the use of sponges for personal hygiene. Each Roman soldier was equipped with a marine sponge for precisely the same purpose.”
Like all natural resources, humans have a learning curve in which we discover the harms of over-harvesting and individual species management have on nature. With proper management, sea sponges have a slew of untapped medicinal, hygienic, and filter cleaning properties that can significantly impact the planet and human health.
The Florida Sea Grant’s Research into Sea Sponges has found that they are a renewable resource and that if sufficient sponge tissue is left attached to the substrate, the sponge can survive and regenerate. The Florida Sea Grant states that:
“In the northern Gulf, divers historically used a hook to tear sponges free from the bottom, but the industry has gradually moved to cutting sponges from the ocean floor based on Sea Grant studies showing survival rates can be as high as 71% for cut sponges versus 41% for those hooked. In the Keys, where diving for sponges is prohibited, hooked sponges grow back about one-third of the time.
Based on the industry’s embrace of the cutting practice and Sea Grant recommendations, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) passed a measure that now requires sponge divers to harvest sponges by cutting. This ensures that the sponge can grow back, and produce another harvestable sponge.
The remarkable regenerative ability of sponges has led to attempts to “farm” sponges in Florida. A sponge could be cut into pieces, attached to a concrete disk, and the sponge would grow to a commercially valuable product. However, slow growth rates, poaching, and most importantly, periodic episodes of sponge disease worked against the practice of densely “planted” sponges.”
Meaning a higher demand for natural sea sponges would:
- Increase research and the practice of farming sea sponges
- Which in turn would increase the number of sea sponges in the ocean and increase the amount of seawater filtered
- Reduce the amount of plastic in our household and ocean
- Have antibacterial properties!
Loofahs, on the other hand, as one scholar article puts it are: “reservoirs and vehicles in the transmission of potentially pathogenic bacterial species to human skin.”