Tarpon Springs is a city in Pinellas County, Florida, United States. The population was 23,484 at the 2010 census. Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US. Downtown Tarpon has long been a focal point and is currently undergoing beautification.
The region, with a series of bayous feeding into the Gulf of Mexico, was first settled by white and black farmers and fishermen around 1876. Some of the newly arrived visitors spotted tarpon jumping out of the waters and so named the location Tarpon Springs. In the 1880s, it was developed as a wintering spot for wealthy northerners. During the same decade, John Cheyney founded the first local sponge business. The industry continued to grow in the 1890s, and many blacks and whites from Key West and the Bahamas settled in Tarpon Springs to harvest and process sponges. A few Greek immigrants arrived in this city during the 1890s to work in the sponge industry.
In 1905, John Cocoris introduced the technique of sponge diving to Tarpon Springs and recruited divers and crew members from Greece. The first divers came from the Saronic Gulf islands of Aegina and Hydra, but they were soon outnumbered by those from the Dodecanese islands of Kalymnos, Symi and Halki. The sponge industry soon became one of the leading maritime industries in Florida and the most important business in Tarpon Springs, generating millions of dollars a year. The 1953 film Beneath the 12-Mile Reef, depicting the sponge industry, takes place and was filmed in Tarpon Springs.
When a red tide algae bloom occurred in 1947, wiping out the sponge fields in the Gulf of Mexico, many of the sponge boats and divers switched to fishing and shrimping for a livelihood and others left the business. However, the sponges eventually recovered and there has remained a consistent but smaller sponge industry. In the 1980s, the sponge business experienced a boom due to a sponge disease that killed the Mediterranean sponges. Today there is still a small active sponge industry. Visitors can often view sponge fishermen working at the Sponge Docks on Dodecanese Boulevard. In addition, visitors can enjoy shops, restaurants, and museum exhibits that detail Tarpon Springs' Greek heritage.