Back in the days when the Bahamian hotel season last only for the few winter months of the year (December 15 to March 15), sponging was more important to the national economy than tourism.
Sponging employed a hundreds directly, and supported thousands of Bahamians indirectly. From the harvesting of the sponges to the drying, trimming, cutting and packaging, the sponge business was surely good to the Bahamas… while it lasted that it is.
Disease affecting sponge beds killed off the lucrative industry for the Bahamas before worldwide tastes, and preferences for the product changed.
The demise of sponging was helped along by many problems associated with a sea industry. As more and more people took to boats to gather these sought after jewels of the sea, it became like an army marching through a rose garden every few weeks. In the early 1900s, not everyone used best practices in order to ensure the longevity of the sponge beds.
Size was a significant problem. Picking sponges that were too small or sponges which had not reached maturity began to negatively affect the industry.
Sustainability was another significant problem. The sponge trade became so profitable that it enticed South Florida fishermen, and those from other West Indian countries, as far down as Cuba, to join in. As more and more people began fishing in the same geographical area, the availability of mature sponges soon decreased.
Territorial poaching became a significant problem as the industry became more profitable. With so many Bahamians, and others casting nets for sponges, territorial encroachment was inevitable.
Poaching meant that large Bahamian suppliers were losing valuable sponge beds as well as potential profits almost overnight.
Bahamian H. C. Christie came up with an idea to protect his sponging business. The invention was ingenious, but it also changed one important thing. H. C. Christie could no longer sell any sponges grown under his new patent as natural. He would have to sell them as artificially grown sponges.
HAROLD G. CHRISTIE TALKS ABOUT HIS FATHER’S INVENTION WHILE STAYING AT THE RITZ CARLTON
In 1927, H. C. Christie, father of Harold G. Christie, Frank Christie and Percy Christie ( three brothers who sat simultaneously in the House of Assembly) was a businessman who had a profitable stake in the sponging industry on New Providence.
H. C. Christie invented and patented an apparatus which could be attached to the sponge. The apparatus was a disc. The patented sponge disc attempted to solve a number of major problems affecting the industry in 1927.
Sponges have the ability to regenerate even from the smallest piece of the original. With Christie’s invention, one healthy sponge would be cut into twenty or thirty pieces. Each piece would be attached to the disc which could identify territory, owner, and date put into the sea. This noteworthy invention suddenly created a vital inventory control and growth rate measurement into something which was completely random, largely unmeasurable over the long term.
The patented invention did not hinder or aid in the sponge’s growth pattern or size but as there was a man made element introduced into the natural process, any new sponges had to be labelled artificial by H. C. Christie.
The rest of the 1927 Harold G. Christie interview