Island of Krapanj


The island of Krapanj, located in the Sibenik archipelago, has an area of 0.36 km2 and is the smallest, lowest and most densely populated Mediterranean island. Krapanj lies only 300 m from the mainland place of Brodarice, from which there are scheduled boat lines to Krapanj that run every hour throughout the whole year. Krapanj, only 1.5 m above sea-level, has rich Mediterranean architecture with characteristic stone houses and streets and is best known for sponge diving and the unusual occupation of its women - fishing.

The men of Krapanj have been diving for sponges for over 300 years, while their wives used to work in the fields in Sibenik's interior, used to row and go fishing, even though they did not know how to swim. On Krapanj, the women were field laborers, fishermen, housewives and mothers, while their husbands, sons and fathers used to dive for sponges every day, using primitive tools such as harpoons. Since they used the breath-hold (free) diving method, many of the divers never surfaced.


You might be surprised by the fact that sponges are not plants but animals that belong to the first multi-cellular creatures on Earth. Even though there are over 5000 different species of sponges, only some 15 of them can be commercially used. Sponges can mostly be found in warm waters and can regenerate if properly cut off, meaning that where one sponge used to be another one will take its place. Sponges live off of plankton in warm, calm and clear waters, on rough and rocky seabed up to the depth of 200 m. It takes 2 to 4 years for sponges to grow approximately 15 cm in diameter. Sponges obtain plankton by filtering sea water and an average sponge can filter almost 2000 liters of sea water per day!

In the Adriatic, there is an excellent rounded species of sponge, the so-called Dalmata Fina, that can grow up to 40 cm in diameter. It has considerable market value due to its fine structure. Besides Dalmata Fina, there is also one more type of sponge in the Adriatic, Elephant's Ear Sponge, known for its unusual form and tremendous tenacity. Even though it can grow up to 1 m in diameter, it is not as valued as Dalmata Fina.


People began to dive for sponges in ancient times, at first on the Aegean islands, and later throughout the Mediterranean. In the beginning, the breath-hold (free) diving method was used to dive up to 30 m, while the so-called "bell" method, used later on, made it possible for divers to breathe the captured air and to dive to greater depths. The first written document on sponge diving in Croatia dates back to 1522, when sponge diving began on Krapanj. 

The inhabitants of Krapanj were taught how to dive for sponges, how to recognize quality sponges and how to use them by friar Antun from Greece. At that time, the inhabitants of Krapanj dived for sponges, called "spuga" on Krapanj, up to a depth of 16 m by using harpoons. The introduction of new diving equipment made it possible to dive to greater depths. At the end of the 19th century, a Krapanj diving crew consisted of 8 people. Only two or three were divers, two were rowers, two were in charge of the air pump, and one or two had to press, wash and dry the sponges. In 1893, the islanders founded an association that was later donated diving equipment by the local authorities. At the end of the 19th century, there were 14 divers in the association. In 1940, the association had over 20 sets of diving equipment and 20 diving crews. At that time, nearly 400 people on Krapanj lived only off of sponge diving.

It is interesting to note that sponge diving was forbidden every third year in order to allow sponges to regenerate.

Nowadays, there are some 10 diving crews on the island, as well as a modern sponge workshop where what was once done by hand is now done by machine. 


When taken out of the sea, sponges are covered with thin and dark membranes with many holes that the sponges use to feed themselves. When the membranes are removed, sponges acquire their light yellow color. This is actually the sponge's skeleton and contains 14% iodine. Until 1912, sponge divers used to take off the membranes by stepping on them and washing the sponges, which made the whole procedure slower and more expensive. At the beginning of the 20th century, sodium sulfate was introduced in order to make taking off the calcium membrane easier. In this way, the sponge acquires its light yellow color sooner, simplifying the entire procedure.


Sponges are extremely hygienic and are excellent for cleaning. They were used by the inhabitants of the island of Crete, while Romans lined the insides of their metal armor with Elephant's Ear Sponges. In the Middle Ages, sponges were also used for medicinal purposes. Attempts to substitute natural sponges with synthetic ones have not been successful. No synthetic sponge has the absorption, tenacity and softness of a natural sponge, therefore, they are still the best when it comes to cleaning and personal care. Besides cosmetic and personal care products, sponges are also used in the restoration of art work, in the production of ceramics, porcelain, leather and wood, as well as in research laboratories.