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Kalymnos sponge divers inspire

Kalymnos sponge divers inspire world diving event.

Anyone who has taken a holiday on Kalymnos will know the island is hugely proud of its sponge diving traditions. The Greek island of Kalymnos was once renowned as a centre of the Greek sponge diving industry and its divers were considered the best in the world.

Now the techniques once used by Kalymnos sponge divers have been adopted for the world 'Skandalopetra Free Diving Event' to be held in the northern Caribbean in May this year.

The first divers of Kalymnos gathered sponges from the sea bottom after diving in naked and carrying a 'skandalopetra' — a flat stone of marble or granite weighing about 15 kilos.

This helped them sink to the sea floor quickly and skilled Greek divers could stay up to 30 metres down and for as long as five minutes gathering the sponges in a special net.

Although it was difficult and dangerous, the diving method resulted in an abundance of top quality sponges and sponge exports brought great wealth to the island of Kalymnos.

Now, modern free divers have organised the 'skandalopetra' contest in honour of the Greek sponge diving tradition and teams from all over the world have already joined diving events in Italy, Greece, Turkey and now the Caribbean.

The two world wars seriously disrupted the sponge diving industry of Kalymnos and many skilled divers resettled in other parts of the world, but the 1980s saw the end of sponge diving when sponge beds in the eastern Mediterranean were decimated by disease and pollution.

Now all that remains on Kalymnos of the once-thriving sponge industry are a few shops in the capital of Pothia, selling sponges to tourists. But those Kalymnos holiday visitors interested in the island's sponge diving history can visit the Kalymnos Museum of Maritime Findings which is the life's work of former Kalymnos sponge diver Stavros Valdamides.

The museum at Vlychadia, Kalymnos, is one of the best private museums in Greece and, as well as a history of Kalymnos sponge diving, are exhibits that include the remains of an ancient Greek boat and an eclectic mix of undersea findings that range from ancient amphorae to World War Two ammunition. The museum opens daily 9am — 7pm and Sunday 10am — 2pm and entrance is is free.

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