Sponge Diving in Kalymnos
It seems that the barren soil of the island together with the superb beauty of the depths of the Mediterranean have played a major role in moulding the character of the Kalymnian people. They are endowed with a diversity that combines a marked bluntness with a certain nobility of the soul. These traits can be said to resemble the nature of the Sponge itself which is found at a wide variety of depths, ranging from a few centimetres to the depths of the abyss at 8500 metres. There are 5000 different species of Sponge and they can vary in colour, size and quality; some are smooth and velvety; others can be rough and hard.
The university of ‘Gabriele d’Annunzio’ in Chietti, Italy, a contemporary and vibrant institution, suggested (1984) that a research centre for Hyperbaric Underwater Medicine should be established in Kalymnos. To support this idea, they wrote, “….what makes the island unique is the fact that the fishermen there have, for thousands of years, been diving for Sponges”. The point being that diving, whether by the old method of holding their breath or, as is done nowadays, by frogmen, diving has become second nature to them. As generation followed generation, they became divers and thus, both physically and mentally they became utterly familiar with the skill of diving. Therefore, Kalymnos would be a most fitting place to set up such an underwater organisation such as was proposed. The Kalymnians would not only appreciate its purpose but they would also expand and improve its operation.
Today, however, things are quite different. Owing to a destructive disease which has devastated Sponge colonies all over the Mediterranean, the people of the island have been forced to turn to other kinds of fishing. Sponge boats have given way to vessels equipped to fish for Tuna and Swordfish, both of which are in demand.
Meanwhile, how has the society reacted to this enforced change? When they talked of Sponge diving, the saying was, “…you don’t come up empty handed. You either get them or they get you!”. So, what are they doing under these new circumstances?
A great many families have emigrated abroad. Others have turned to jobs on the land. However, one thing is certain. They are all waiting, patiently waiting, for the moment when the Sponge fleet will set sail again and for the time when, once again they will hear the bells of the church of St. Nicholas, their patron saint, peal for joy at the safe homecoming of the fathers, brothers and sons.
They are all quite sure that the Sponge will never disappear from the face of the Earth. It is just going through a storm. The sea is rough at the moment, but the storm will subside.