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Oceans Past: A Guide to Oceans Future
Date:1/14/2008

cial Conflict, Over-Fishing and Disease in the Florida Sponge Fishery, 18491939
By Loren McClenachan

Coral reef ecosystems have for centuries been influenced by humans, and the consequences have brought an onslaught of unknown diseases and the destruction of these ecosystems. In the late 19th century, poor coastal fishermen in Florida prospered from the sale of millions of pounds of bath sponges to the North American metropolises of New York, Chicago and St Louis. Sponger money was said to ever flow and fishing for marine sponges formed the basis of entire local economies along the coast. Until 1905, the banks of marine sponges in the reefs of the Florida Keys were partially protected from overfishing by the mere awkwardness of the fishing gear. Key West spongers used long-handled rakes to grope for sponges in the shallows, leaving deep-water sponges to grow and reproduce.

In the early years of the 20th century, Mediterranean sponge fishermen revolutionized Floridas sponge fishery by introducing diving technology and shifting the centre of the fishery north to the Gulf Coast. Commercial divers from Greece could take sponges from water depths unimaginable to the Key West spongers, and their ability to access pristine sponge banks and more efficient sponge curing techniques helped them to out-compete traditional fishermen. In 1905, Greek divers began to arrive in Florida in gold rush proportions, and by 1910 they outnumbered the original Key West fishermen.

The development of diving technology helped fishermen find sponges that were growing in deep water or hidden locations. This advance temporarily breathed life into a dying fishing industry, and ultimately pushed the resource to commercial collapse and ecological extinction.

Technological ratcheting up of fishing pressure is common in marine fisheries even today. In the case of the sponge fishery, the situation became much worse as over-fishing created the breeding ground
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Contact: Kira Paulli Pravato
kpp@ruc.dk
452-461-4096
Census of Marine Life
Source:Eurekalert  

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