TARPON SPRINGS, FL – Jim Cantonis is President of a thriving company, Acme Sponge and Chamois in Tarpon Springs that has benefitted from Florida Sea Grant (FSG) initiatives, Florida Trend magazine reported.
The FSG “is a University of Florida-based program that supports research, education and extension to enhance economic opportunities for Floridians while protecting coastal resources. Sea Grant works in partnership with the NOAA, the Florida Board of Education, and Florida’s citizens and governments,” CHF reported.
“The natural sponge industry in Florida has had its ups and downs over the last few decades,” Cantonis told Florida Trend. “It surged in the ’80s when there was blight in the Mediterranean. Mediterranean sponges have come back, so it’s leveled off the industry activity here. We still maintain a higher level of fishing than we had prior to that boom in the late ’80s, but not close to what we used to see in the 1920s and ’30s.”
But Cantonis is one of the fortunate ones, with his company growing 30% in each of the past two years. “There’s been a real surge in using natural product, and of course there’s nothing more natural than a sponge picked out of the ocean,” he told Florida Trend. “The biggest increase is for bath sponges, especially for bathing babies. Sponges have a natural antibacterial property to them. It’s amazing how many times we hear, ‘If it’s good enough for my baby it’s good enough for me.’”
Cantonis, who is now Vice Chairman of FSG’s advisory board, attributes his success, and that of Florida’s sponging industry as a whole, to FSG: he told Florida Trend that “without Florida Sea Grant there would be no sponge fishery in Florida. The research done by Sea Grant and other researchers tells a wonderful story. At current harvest levels, sponges are truly a renewable resource. Sponge tissue left behind after harvesting can actually regenerate to produce a new sponge. No other fishery resource that I know of can tell the same story. This is why it is important to rely on objective scientific evidence in evaluating the management of our fishery resources. These are facts, not just conjecture by well-intentioned folks that don’t have all the information in front of them.”