It’s just a sponge

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By Greg Dumas

Some time ago Linda and I took our friends Terry and Maggie Kennedy to Horseshoe Beach to celebrate their birthdays which are a day apart. This is a beautiful area, right on the Gulf coast, with a restaurant overlooking the ocean.
As we were approaching the restaurant we noticed a boat loaded with sponges that the crew had harvested from the sea. Linda and Maggie became very excited and soon were engaged in conversation with one of the crew members.
There were a lot of sponges on that boat and what amazed me was the size of some of them; they were big sponges! As I stood there enjoying the experience, I was reminded of a story that I had read about two men in Tarpon Springs who had been busted for illegally harvesting sponges from the ocean. When confronted by an officer, one of the men remarked, "Come on, it's just a sponge! What good are they?"
Sponges are really marvelous creatures. They are the simplest form of multi-cellular animal in existence and that are more than 10,000 species that live in both fresh and salt water. The barrel sponge, which is found in the tropics, can grow large enough to fit a person inside of it. There weren't any barrel sponges on the boat that night.
The sponge is truly a unique animal and it is used for everything from mopping up our spills to heating our bodies.
In recent years, compounds derived from sponges have been used in cancer-fighting drugs and in medicines to help prevent the rejection of transplanted organs. However, more significant is what sponges do for the oceans, lakes and rivers they inhabit.
Sponges are marvelous creatures. They can have many different colors, tough skin, sharp spicules, and rows of polyps. Contrary to what many people believe, sponges can move, although very slowly (1/25th of an inch in one day).
Sponges will take several hundred gallons of water a day into their chamber, using whip like flagella to make a strong current. As they do this, the sponge filters this water; it is a remarkable filtering system, removing up to 90 percent of the bacteria. This is what the sponge eats as it returns cleansed water to the outside.
The wonderful clean water that most of us enjoy so much is largely due to the incredible job performed by the lowly sponge. It is one of nature's filtering systems and today in a world that has become increasingly aware of the need for clean water, sponges perform an invaluable service.
No it's not just a sponge; it is an exquisitely designed essential part of the water world that we all depend on and enjoy. I believe that the design and function of the lowly sponge is surely a reflection of the wisdom of a purposeful creator, "Marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well," Psalms 139:14.
Gene Dumas is preacher at Manatee Springs Church of Christ.