What Are Sea Sponges?
Identifying a Sea Sponge
The natural sea sponge is one of the world’s simplest multi-cellular living organisms. The sponge’s scientific classification is “Porifera,” which literally means “pore-bearing,” and refers to the countless tiny openings or holes visible on all sponges. Sponges grow in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. In fact, there are over 5,000 species of sponges identified by scientists worldwide, less than 12 of which are actually harvested for commercial use.
The smallest species of sea sponge is less than 1 inch long, with the average size of the largest sea sponge being 3 to 6 feet in size. The largest sea sponge ever discovered was a Monoraphus sponge that grew to be over 10 feet wide.
Sea sponges – as found in their natural un-harvested state – are comprised of a hard, shell-like protective outer layer covered with tiny pore-like holes which travel deep down into and all throughout the soft structure within.
These tiny pores – with their many adjoining cannels – serve multiple purposes for sustaining a sponge’s growth, the most important of which is for letting massive of amounts of water flow freely in and out of the sponge in order for it to gather all the nutrients it needs to grow and survive, while simultaneously releasing waste and unwelcome objects.
All of the sea sponges that are sold after processing and as they would be recognized by the average user are actually the luxuriously soft and porous inner structure of the sponge.
Plants vs. Animals
For very long time it was a debated fact whether or not sea sponges should be classified as plants or animals. Because of their simple, hard physical design, sea sponges have commonly been mistaken as sea coral. And until the mid-1700's, the texture and appearance of sponges suggested to many that they were plants.
The ancient Greeks referred to sea sponges as the 'Zoofitan' – a rare and unique category of marine species – literally meaning a “half plant/half animal” organism. Eventually Zoologists found new evidence to challenge this theory, and sea sponges were re-classified as a simple multi-cellular, bottom-dwelling animal which has neither brains, digestive, circulatory, nor central nervous systems. According to this definition, while sea sponges are technically “animals,” for all practical purposes, they grow, reproduce, and survive as plants and for this reason, among other reasons, are considered as “vegan-friendly” by many vegans. Additionally, when harvested correctly, sea sponges are actually a very renewable resource.
Where Sea Sponges Live
As the name suggest, almost all natural sponges live in the oceans and seas. But of the thousands of sponges in existence, there are some rare varieties, of the species “Spongillidae,” that live in fresh water locations as well. All sponges which are suitable and sustainable for commercial use dwell in saltwater.
Sea Sponges thrive well in a variety oceanic climates – from tropical to polar – and can survive at all latitudes – from intertidal areas down to the deepest regions of the sea, including sea caves where there's little or no light. Of those sponges harvested for commercial use however, the highest quality of sponges have always been those fished from the tropical seas, particularly the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and the Red Seas.
Sea Sponges in the Ecosystem
Sponges survive by anchoring themselves permanently to other solid objects on the ocean floor, such as coral, rocks or rock walls, shell beds, and various other surfaces. Once established firmly, sea sponges take in nutrients by moving the ocean currents through their bodies by which they filter out tiny organisms for food, take in oxygen, and release waste. Sea Sponges are composed perfectly for their environment by means of the hole-ridden structures and could not survive without their unique design.
Interestingly enough, sea sponges are actually capable of regulating the amount of water that flows through their bodies by the construction of various openings. They can also actively generate the flow of water that is drawn through their structures by the continuous beating of thousands of tiny flagella within the cells of their pores. In some ocean areas, additional water flow is provided to the local sponges by means of ambient currents that pass over raised excurrent openings. This moving water creates an area of low pressure above the excurrent openings which in turn assists in drawing water out of the sponge as well.
Needless to say, there is a massive amount of water that is pulled through a given sponge within a day’s time. Sea Sponges are capable drawing in and out 20,000 times their own volume of water in a single 24 hour period. Sea sponges are commonly referred to as "filter feeders” because of the way they receive all their nutrients by capturing and digesting bacteria, plankton, and other organic particulates floating in the ocean currents which pass through the thousands of tiny pores on the surface of their bodies.
How Sea Sponges Populate
Most sponges – of those commercially harvestable anyway – are essentially asexual, as they multiply by a process called “budding.” Budding is a common in both plants and fungi as well as sea sponges. But unlike plants or fungi – where the new outgrowth bud stays for a while and then breaks off into a completely separate organism – sponges will also often stay attached to each other indefinitely with each new growth cycle.
There are sea sponges that also reproduce by releasing sperm that is caught by nearby sponges and fertilization of an egg then occurs internally. The tiny larva which is produced is then released to settle where they will and then to develop and grow into a new sponge.
Sea sponges have a lifespan of a few months to 20 years or more. They also have the ability to regenerate into new individual sponges from even the tiniest fragments of the original.
How Sea Sponges are Harvested
Notwithstanding the sea sponge’s natural regenerative characteristics, these precious resources of the sea have always been carefully and sustainably harvested as a standard matter of practice by everyone in the industry.
Sponge diving has even been a family tradition in many areas around the world for thousands of years. Sponge fishermen use specially designed hooks or knives when harvesting and slice sponges at least 1 inch from the base, leaving more than enough for regeneration. This method of harvesting has been proven not to disrupt the sponges’ natural reproductive processes.
In fact, studies have shown that areas harvested actually increase in their population density. Once cut, a sponge will re-grow within a few years, often to become bigger and healthier than it was originally. A sponge’s regenerative powers are so strong that even broken pieces have been shown to be able to regrow into completely new sponges once they settle back down to the ocean floor and connect themselves to a new object.
Sea sponges have been a luxurious and treasured prize to the avid bath lover for a very long time, and if they continue to be harvested naturally and responsibly – with the same care that they have received for thousands of years from sponge-fishing families all over the world – they will remain commercially available with no harm to their ecosystem or the environment for many years to come.
Sea Sponge Harvesting and the Environment
Some people have raised concerns about protecting sea sponges, but very few are aware of the natural sea sponge’s robust reproductive process or their true regenerative capabilities.
As is all too often forgotten, there are over 5000 species of sponges identified by scientists all around the world, but only a handful are actually harvested for commercial use. Another interesting note is that of the 1000’s of sea sponges which are actually harvested by divers for commercial use each year, there are 1000’s more which are never harvested – each continuing to repopulate the ocean floor without interruption.
In fact, the average life span of a sea sponge is approximately 10 years, but research has shown that harvesting actually strengthens regenerative capabilities and allows for an extended life span.
The Many Uses of Sea Sponges
Sea sponges have long been esteemed as highly valued commodities for many different peoples and in many different places all over the world. They have always offered great value due to their natural qualities of softness, strength, high absorbency, and for their long life span of usefulness.
Some of their most popular uses include: Adult, infant, and child bathing, cosmetic applications, personal hygiene, feminine hygiene and care, pet bathing and care, premium car washing and detailing, wall painting, watercolor painting, arts and crafts of all kinds, shoe shining, equine and tack care, outdoor adventuring, household décor, dishwashing, household cleaning, and many more uses.
Benefits of Using Sea Sponges
Genuine sea sponges are an incredible alternative for a superior natural bathing experience to all synthetic sponges. They are highly absorbent, exceptionally soft, create a luxurious lather, do not retain odors, last longer than synthetic sponges, and are truly the ideal choice for even the most sensitive of skin. Those who care about our environment love the fact that sea sponges are a very renewable resource and are fully biodegradable.
Natural sea sponges, while remaining hypoallergenic and toxin-free, actually possess enzymes that are shown to inhibit the growth of mold, mildew, and bacteria. This is just another reason that sea sponges are considered healthier, safer, and more effective for various cosmetic and personal care applications.
For similar reasons people find small premium sea sponges to be the perfect choice for cleansing and protecting even a baby’s delicate skin. They are literally soft as silk when wet and make bath the favorite part of the day for baby, child, and adult alike. Many experts agree that fine-pored “silk” sponges are the best choice for infants and children, and some of our customers choose to cleanse without the use of soap when using a Mediterranean Silk sea sponge.
Aside from the sea sponge’s many uses as a household favorite in bathing, personal care, cleaning, and more, living sea sponges are actually being researched right now in hopes to synthesize alternative treatments for various ailments. Sea sponges in the ocean emit a natural chemical that is thought to one day offer effective and natural possible treatment options for arthritis sufferers and even certain types of cancer. In addition, they contain a full spectrum of healthy sea minerals that our bodies love and need and for this reason have been consumed by individuals from various countries.
Have You Tried a Sea Sponge?
There is little doubt, from ancient times to the present, sea sponges have remained the most natural, most luxurious, most hygienic, and most healthy way to cleanse and care for the skin, in addition to the myriad of other alternative personal care and household applications that they offer. Sea sponges have an exciting future, because they are completely eco-friendly and renewable, are naturally superior in quality to their synthetic rivals on the market today, and offer a better quality life for each of their unique and special users, making them the absolute product of choice for anyone who tries them.