You probably know that a real sponge is a sea sponge. But do you realize seasponges are actually living animals, not plants? Animal phylum consisting oforganisms called sponges, is also known as Porifera. The word “Porifera” meanspore-bearing and refers to the many tiny openings, or holes, visible on all sponges.Sea sponges are simple-celled, filter feeding animals that grow in every ocean in theworld.
Sea sponges are colorful, colonial creatures living together in large clusters. We arefortunate to have such a beautiful renewable natural resource in our oceans. It isremarkable how they survive pollution where other sea creatures cannot. That isbecause they have the ability to regenerate into new individuals from even the tiniestfragments of the original. When their food supplies diminish from contamination, thesponges fragment and lie dormant until growing conditions improve. Scientistsbelieve that age, environmental conditions and food supply may be related to theirsize ranging from tiny to rather enormous. Baby sponges resemble plankton andafter a few days of free floating will attach themselves to a hard surface and begin togrow.
History reveals many fascinating stories, including sponge blights, social andbiological issues. Sponges produce a toxin they release in the water. The intendedfunction is to ward off predators that would otherwise feed on the sponges, includinghumans. Small particles from the sponge surface -- spicules, may dislodge andadhere to skin. Thus, harvest today is by skindiving with proper equipment orhooking sponges from shallow waters.
Sponges have a life span of a few months to 20 years or more. Scientists havefound that their harvest actually enhances the health and population of others. Thereare sub-species of Porifera and some thrive in the deepest regions of the seas,including sea caves where there’s little or no light. There are even some varietiesthat live in fresh water locations. Scientists have identified approximately 5,000species of sponges to date.
Before the advent of the synthetic age, early Mediterranean and Europeancivilizations used the natural sea sponge for many daily tasks like painting, washingand sweeping floors, or as a way to gather drinking water when cups or othervessels were unavailable. Roman soldiers used them to line their helmets anddoctors and healers used the burnt sponge as a therapeutic aid for certain maladies.Nowadays the natural sponge’s many uses has dwindled to selected areas like artsand crafts, painting and redecorating, or for use in operating rooms during surgicalprocedures.
Natural sponges are absorbent, durable, long lasting, will not stain or retain odors.Their soft texture promotes better and less abrasive cleaning. Even artists andcraftsmen say the natural sponge is essential for distinctive design applications.
Synthetic sponges are made of cellulose polymers while organic sponges havenaturally formed crevices and ridges that cannot be duplicated. The synthetics areprocessed from materials such as nylon or rubber, which generate as muchpollution in their processing as in their residues.
Commercial sponge harvesters typically immerse sponges in a mixture of water andhydrochloric acid, a procedure often used in food preparation. It gives them a blondecoloring before being sold by merchants. When assorted for a specific purpose, theyare often trimmed to an oval shape.
It’s not unusual to see display ads in magazines about women using a sea spongeinstead of a tampon. Research determined there are health risks associated withconventional tampon use. These risks are related to Dioxin, a by-product of thebleaching of the rayon fibers used to make tampons, as well as to the rayon itself.Companies that sell sea sponges tell you they are sanitized, and probably are. To besafe, however, you can clean them yourself and should repeat periodically.
To sanitize a sea sponge, don't use harsh soap. Boiling is not recommendedbecause it shrinks and toughens your sponge and shortens its useful lifetime. Themicrowave is not recommended either. It changes the molecular structure. Asolution of one tablespoon of baking soda, tea tree oil, or cider vinegar in one cup ofwarm water does the job. Or try a solution of half hydrogen peroxide and half water.Air dry preferably in sunlight and replace about every six months.
Get creative and use a sea sponge to put on face paint for Halloween. Applyeveryday makeup with a sea sponge. It’s kind and gentle to your face, as well as onthe soft skin of babies and children. Try putting organic shower gel on your seasponge and keep a spare in your travel kit. By using a sea sponge for washingdishes, you can save 50 to 100 rolls of paper towels a year!
You can find sea sponges from discount stores to specialty bath boutiques. Thecleaner we keep our oceans, the more sponges people can harvest. Be an educatedconsumer and help eliminate synthetic production, which causes pollutants.
Written by: Delia Montgomery, Chíc Eco
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