Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Environmental Change and Place-Based Identities: Sponge Fishing in Tarpon Springs, Florida
by Suver, Michael, M.A., University of South Florida, 2012, 87; 1530839
Abstract (Summary)

As the environmental consequences of urbanization and climate change become apparent in coastal communities, it has become important to understand how residents of these communities experience and approach their changing environments. This becomes especially significant in places where nature-based livelihoods constitute a major part of the economy. This thesis focuses on the city of Tarpon Springs, located along the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, where sea sponge fishing is an important contributor to the local economy while also being central to place-based tourist and ethnic identities. It seeks to understand how environmental changes in the sea sponge economy will affect the coastal economy of Tarpon Springs.

Based on interviews conducted with people closely connected with the sponge fishing economy, including sponge fishers and shops selling sponges, the thesis delves into (i) local perspectives on changing environmental conditions, (ii) how such changes will impact the future of sponge fishing and (iii) the extent to which local governmental support has been sought by sponge fishers and shops. Sponge fishing in Tarpon Springs is connected to its Greek identity so changes in the sponge economy could potentially affect whether tourist experiences which highlight Greek identity linked to sponge fishing continue to be connected to an actual Greek economic presence or reflect nostalgia for a Greek past.

The interview responses showed concerns about declining sponge hauls which were connected to more immediate experiences of environmental change and pollution, including red tide events and phosphate runoff. Respondents also reflected on how climate change will exacerbate such environmental issues through rising water temperatures. Respondents viewed Tarpon Springs as a community with a strong Greek identity and sponge shop owners especially seemed to be dependent on links with an active sponge fishing economy to enhance the value of their sponges for tourists. In terms of government support, those involved in the sponge economy had very little interaction with city officials and did not seem keen to enhance such interactions.

This thesis thus reveals that the economy of Tarpon Springs continues to be shaped by sponge fishing livelihoods that are directly dependent on nature. However, it seems that concerns related to environmental change remain within the local community and are not being voiced through more public forums, such as through active engagement with local government. The future of Tarpon Springs and its sponge fishing economy therefore remains uncertain, even as local participants in the sponge economy continue to work towards maintaining their unique identity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Basu, Pratyusha
Commitee: Bosman, Martin, Chakraborty, Jayajit
School: University of South Florida
Department: Geography
School Location: United States -- Florida
Source: MAI 51/04M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Geography
Keywords: Climate change, Environmental geography, Florida, Greek ethnicity, Sponge fishing
Publication Number: 1530839
ISBN: 9781267806314
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