First we saw a few bubbles. Then so many that the water seemed to boil. Next appeared a bulbous brass helmet, big as a beach ball, trailing a long rubber hose. A human hand clasped the side of the wooden boat. A minute later, the diver had climbed back aboard the St. Nicholas VII. Clad in traditional early-20th-century diving getup, he appeared to have stepped directly from a Jules Verne novel.
Unlike fictional underwater adventurers, this one was a real man demonstrating to us tourists the old-fashioned and once highly dangerous work of sponge harvesting. Methods of gathering these profitable porous sea critters may be safer today, but a recent visit to Tarpon Springs revealed that much about this Gulf Coast Florida community remains curiously unchanged.
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