TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — The history of Tarpon Springs is rooted in immigrants who came to the area at the turn of the century from Greece.

George Billiris belongs to one of those families who made their way to Tarpon Springs from Greece — a family who helped found what the area is known for, sponge diving. When Billiris' grandfather immigrated in 1924, he opened the family business — St. Nicholas Boat Line.

What You Need To Know

  • The St. Nicholas Boat Line provides live sponge-diving demonstrations in Tarpon Springs

  • George Billiris' famly founded the company in 1924

  • The sponge harvesting is part of a larger tour on the history of the area and industry 

  • More Florida on a Tankful adventures

“The design of these boats is an over 2,500-year-old Mediterranean design,” Billiris said. “These are the boats the Greeks brought with them when they first came over here, and they still use them over there today." 

The company once harvested live sponges from the waters of the Anclote River. Now, Billiris keeps the family business alive through tours that show the history of the area and even provides a live demonstration of how sponge diving worked at the turn of the century. 

“We really try to continue on to honor our forefathers," Billiris said. "My great grandfather, grandfather, my father and uncles, everybody in our family that worked through time to keep this alive and going.”

Experienced divers suit up in a traditional gear used to harvest live sponges from the floor of the river, diving in and searching for a sponge to bring back on board. The live demonstration of a sponge harvest is the only accurate one left in Tarpon Springs.

“You get some history about the sponge industry and how we got started,” Billiris said. “You learn the culture, and it really is the only place in the world you get to see something like this.”

The St. Nicholas Boat Line tours operate daily off the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs.

This is the best time of year to enjoy the tours. They are not open every day during the summer months.