The Tarpon Springs Department of Cultural and Civic Services recently announced that Anastasios “Taso” Karistinos was the recipient of a 2010 Florida Folk Heritage Award for excellence as a sponge diver and sponge boat captain.
Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning announced the winners on March 24 in Tallahassee, honoring Karistinos and other Floridians who have made contributions to the state in historic preservation, writing, folk heritage, public service, the arts and entertainment.
Karistinos hails from the Greek island of Euboea, where he won several free-diving contests in his youth and was introduced to scuba diving while in his teens.
He came to Tarpon Springs in 1973 and started diving for various sponge boat captains. He was mentored by legendary diver John “The Greek” Maillis.
Karistinos harvests sponges in the Gulf of Mexico from March to December, working in water 10 to 30 feet deep while wearing a wetsuit and receiving compressed air in a mask through a hose. His boat, the Anastasi, was built by 2009 Florida Folk Heritage Award winner George Saroukos and is the only working traditional Greek-style sponge boat today.
Sponge diving is often difficult due to dangerous weather and diving conditions, long stretches of time away from home, and the uncertainty of adequate economic compensation.
Karistinos persists because of his dedication to the tradition and a love for the sea. He is widely considered one of the best examples of the sponge diving and the sponge boat captain traditions.
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