The photo is accredited by fscomps.fotosearch.com. This was the diving suit of a sponge diver around 1940s and is called “skafandro”.
Depicting Sponge Fishing in Kalymnos.
Kalymnos is an island that is located in the south-east of Greece. It is in the Aegean Sea and part of Dodecanese, and is better known as the island of sponge divers, as they have been fishing sponges for about 3000 years.
The sponge commerce was the only source of income for Kalymnians for many years, as Kalymnos was a barren rocky island.
Sponge Fishing and equipment:
The sponges are collected on the North African coast, which is the destination of the Kalymnian boats. The journey usually takes five-days and the divers often travel in groups of three or four boats. The sponge divers acquired a license in advance in order to gain permission to dive in the waters of Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
A piece of marble called a “skandalopetra” is used by divers to provide the necessary balance in order to walk on the seabed.
Nowadays, the most common aspirator consists of a mask, tubes, cord, metallic fibre, and leather and air valves from bicycle tubes. Divers wear woollen clothes to keep their bodies warm.
The divers usually dive for an hour every day for nine months.
The outcome depends on the captain’s knowledge of seabed locations of sponges and the diver’s experience.
Diving to a depth of 60 metres is easy for the Kalymnians divers.
The dangers of sponge diving around the Mediterranean Sea:
Thousands of Kalymnians have lost their lives due to the sponge-fishing and the bends, a disorder affecting persons who are exposed to rapid changes in the air pressure around them.
Many others have had to continue their lives either totally crippled or with permanent injuries that cause insufferable pain.
Shark attacks in the Mediterranean Sea are also one of the biggest fears of the sponge divers, as Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Egypt are home to several species of shark.
On table one are presented the diving accidents during late 1950s to middle 1960s. The majority of the accidents happened in 1957, but they decreased through the years.
The President of Kalymnians sponge-divers, Pantelis Georgantis, 39, said on the Greek show “Protagonistes” in 2013 that:
“Kalymnians will continue to dive no matter the dangers.”,
“I lost my brother in an accident while he was fishing sponges at the island of Samos, and I am suffering from the diver’s disease, but I have a family and I need to help them financially.”,
“So, I will continue to dive but at less deeper places.”, “The sea is my second home, regardless the dangers.”, “This is why, I can consider myself as an addict to the sea.”
The preparation before the fishing:
When Spring arrives and Easter is over, Kalymnians are in the harbour preparing the boats for the new sponge fishing period, as they will be in the open sea for eight or nine months without reaching any port.
The boats have to be calked, stocked painted and the engines maintained.
The local artisans also have to repair or replace different parts of the diving suits, such as new glass on the helmet and air valves.
The compressor is a tool, attached to the engine and it provides the diver with oxygen, which lasts for about a year.
The food of the sponge divers:
Normally a boat has a crew of 17 men. They will have prepared food from home in advance. They prepare the bread and the salted meat collectively with potatoes, beans and olive oil. Food Products that can last a long time are a necessity.
Furthermore, they bring fuel and barrels of drinkable water with them.
Sponge divers first preferance was flour, whereas the least was fava.
On the day of departure, the Kalymnian Orthodox priest goes from boat to boat with the icon of St. Nicolas, patron saint of sailors, in order to bless the boats, equipment and crews.
When the boats depart, the wives of the sponge divers dress in black. This can be explained as a symbol for the bad news that might arrive.
The sponge diver’s dance:
Michanikos is a traditional dance from Kalymnos. It is typically only performed by men dancing in a line, and depicts the crippling effects of the bends.
The leading dancer who (on the slow part of the music) has to struggle to stand and walk, and uses a stick in doing so.
In conclusion, Kalymnian divers will continue to dive, as behind the tradition is hidden the love and strong relationship with the sea. The fear of the unknown will never stop them.
By Katerina Tiliakou