I went in search of a loofah and came across the perfect one in this little shop in downtown Athens. I went inside and was intrigued by what I saw -I had recently watched a programme about how sponges are collected and was shocked at the dangers involved, the considerable loss of life due to decompression issues. I was also curious as to whether this was a good idea or a bad one, one which is harmful to the sea or considered reasonable.
Not only did I know how sponge diving was regarded I also could not readily identify what they were. Are they plants - animals - other beings - it seems for a long time they were considered a mixture of the two. An animal with no brain or central nervous system.They are a multi cellular bottom dwelling animal but which seem to reproduce and survive like a plant. Most of them work something like chimneys they take in water at the bottom and send it out through a little mouth at the top, taking all the nutrients they need in the process. One thing is clear, they are not corals. A reference I read said there are over 5,000 species. Only about 12 are harvested for commercial use and if removed from the sea bed correctly they are capable of regeneration and vigorous growth.
They had been harvested almost to extinction on the Island of Kalymnos which was poor agriculturally and had to look to the seas to secure more income. Families lost loved ones and the sponges were harvested indiscriminately. Now diving for them is more controlled and much safer though fewer people engage in this business. It looks as if shops like this may be around for a while.