FKA Kiteboarding Forums  

Go Back   FKA Kiteboarding Forums > MAIN FORUM > Something Rich And Strange ... Diving Tales From The Water Underworld
Connect with Facebook
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 10-07-2014, 06:14 AM
RickI's Avatar
RickI RickI is offline
Site Admin
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Florida
Posts: 8,697
Arrow IRME, A Short Film - The Passing Of Sponge Diving In Turkey

I recently had the pleasure to learn of IRME, a film project based in Bodrum, Turkey through its creator, Mert Gokalp. The short film deals with sponge diving and the passage of this way of life into the past as a result of the sponge blight. The impacts of the sponge blight have been significant in this coastal fishing town and many other similar towns throughout the Aegean Sea.

The film conveys messages on several levels. The primary conflict is between a boy longing to dive and work in the sea, his father a sponge boat captain who wants him to stay on land and the boy's mentor, a renowned sponge diver, now crippled for life after a bad case of the bends. On other levels the film treats the fading into the past of this fishing town to be replaced with a tourist destination rife with resorts and night clubs. Finally it offers some insights on new ecological imperatives likely brought on by climate change likely an important cause of the sponge blight and poor resource husbandry practices. Mert wanted to show the Bodrum of the past along with the dramatic stories of divers, with so many lost and injured working the sea. Production photos are from the film's Facebook page at

IRME's setting involves a boat and its working crew in the middle of the Mediterranean sea in the 1970s on the brink of the collapse of the sponge fishery with a blight wiping out stocks. The sponge blight substantially reduces the quantity, quality of the sponges, reducing size and changing them to a brittle texture ruining the commercial and practical value. The father also a sponge captain, never wanted his boy to work on the sea for many reasons. The trials, high risk of injury and death including some family and friends in the past, makes him want his son to take up farming on land instead. The boy finds work in another boat driven by his longing for the sea. The boy learns diving from the cripple Omer, a famous diver working on that boat who suffered paralysis from the bends. Time passes and the cripple and the boy end up working on the father's boat. There is an acute sponge shortage with dive after dive resulting in no sponges being found. The crew is upset with building frustration with no prospect in sight but to continue searching. The mounting tension among the captain/father, the boy and the cripple, conveys the viewer into the desolation of the broad sea, barren bottom with the harsh realities of the changing times.

Part of an 1817 chart showing the southeastern Aegean Sea containing Bodrum, Turkey to the east, the focus on this film. Also the Greeks islands of Kos to the south and Kalminos, center of sponge commerce to the west are highlighted on the chart. Kalminos was the commercial center of the sponge industry for the region. Sponges recovered by the Bodrum fleet were ultimately sold in Kalminos which exercised considerable influence on the area. There were a lot of similarities between Greek and Turkish sponge diving operations. In large measure they shared fishing areas, technology, even divers at times and maintained friendships.

Mert Gokalp is the director, script writer and underwater DOP for the film. He is a marine scientist, photographer/videographer and documentary maker born in Ankara, 1978. He did graduate work at South Florida's own RSMAS institution in Miami. He is currently working on his PHD through the University Of Wageningen. He worked as a marine biologist in 6th & 7th frame European Union projects. He produced 4 individual photography exhibitions along with a guidebook for Turkish Marine Species & a smartphone application for Mediterranean marine species called ‘Doga Rehberi’. He has been working as a freelancer since 2006 involved in nature documentaries as an underwater camera operator; Labyrinth-VPRO, Sponges & Corals episodes - HET KLOKHUIS - NTR, Caretta caretta - IZTV. Currently working on 2 underwater documentaries and an underwater photography project. Mert is shown above loaded for bear with underwater tech, shooting amphora on a wreck off Kas, Turkey.

A look over Bodrum towards the Bodrum Kalesi or castle from the 1950's. The castle construction was started in 1402 by the Knights Hospitaller as a secondary stronghold to their castle on nearby Rhodes. Today the castle contains the unique Museum of Underwater Archaeology created by the Turkish government in the early 1960's to house the numerous undersea finds from the Aegean. Many of these discoveries were made by sponge divers. There are exhibits dealing sponge diving in this museum.

Through time, sponge diving has been a source of great wealth, shifting of population centers, creation of lifestyles through generations, development of new diving technologies, crippling debt at times, as well as painful injury, disability and death. The conflict between seeking profit, human limitations and diving physics has long taken a toll in this fishery.

In a number of ways the film reminds me of aspects of Luc Besson's "The Big Blue," originally "Le grand bleu" of 1988. The film has become a cult classic among free divers everywhere and is a personal favorite as well. To see another work, even a short film delving in this area is of strong personal interest hence my writing this overview. Above is the scene involving Jacques Mayol's father employing particularly primitive surface supply diving technology. From:

Mert is at depth preparing for the shooting of a scene. He told me that historically sponge dives were made down to 80 to 90 m (260 to 290 ft.). There were two classes of divers, those diving the more heavily harvested shallow areas for lower quality, few sponges and those working the deeper zones with better sponges and greater risk of DCS (dekompresyon hastalığı) and other barotrauma (barotravmadır). There were three to four divers per boat depending on the size of the vessel. The dives were relative short with 15 to 30 minute bottom times but with poor decompression practice, too rapid ascent, no or inadequate stage decompression, they were set up for problems. Inadequate decompression brought on by too rapid ascent can cause nitrogen bubbles to form in the diver's body which can cause blockages in blood vessels, joints and pinch nerves resulting in pain and paralysis. The symptoms of decompression sickness or DCS are largely dependent upon where the bubbles occur and interfere with function. The bends arise from bubbles in joint areas and from pinching nerves. Other types of DCS can develop from bubble blockages in the brain, heart and other nerve areas such as related to vision. There are still other types of barotrauma or pressure related disease which impacted the divers such as nitrogen narcosis (azot narkozu), impairing judgement, oxygen toxicity (oksijen zehirlenmesi) related seizures and diminished function, aero embolism (aero emboli), prompted by excessive speed of ascent, long term bone joint degeneration through Dysbaric osteonecrosis (Dysbaric osteonekroz) and still more. There were no hyperbaric treatment centers with recompression chambers or likely even well informed and equipped medical care. The divers were largely on their own to try to avoid and deal with the consequences of barotrauma. There is a famous sponge diver in Bodrum, Aksona Mehmet who was an active scaphandro diver and carries the nick name "the last sponge diver." Aksona has been diving for over 50 years and is one of the few divers who continues to recover sponges. His nickname "Aksona" was taken from his sailboat but also is the name that deals with diver decompression. The term aksona didn't imply the use of decompression tables necessarily but more rules of thumb based upon accumulated knowledge and experience. As such, aksona may not have been accurate particularly with deeper and/or more extreme exposures.

Prevention of DCS is an involved process but at the basic level requires use of decompression tables or computers that prescribe decompression stops for specific durations and certain depths to allow the safe "off gassing" of nitrogen. Such tables were brought to Bodrum in the 1960's I understand from Mert by two men who taught scuba diving. More divers started to use scuba gear instead of hookah rigs and accidents diminished somewhat. For most of the time though no deco tables were used only experience and if what I have encountered in other parts of the world holds, some degree of superstition. I met a commercial spear fisherman in the Bahamas who doesn't use deco tables or dive computers now that they are available but relies upon a "feeling" reinforced by long experience. He has been hit or suffered the bends a number of times which unfortunately can be cumulative with the same areas being impacted over and over again. He never contemplated recompression in a chamber which is the best way of treating DCS but did swear by the benefits of Bayer aspirin, "use no other." In-water recompression is sometimes pursued but can be problematical particularly in the absence of proven procedures and diver health. I once knew a scientific diver when I was a kid in the early 1970's who used to say, "decompression tables, bah, it is something you feel in here" as he beat his chest. I think he was recompressed nine times before they banned him at the chamber. Human nature can be a hard thing to overcome in short and can carry a high price in trials and pain but so it goes.

IRME is an all volunteer project, including actors, boats, sets, gear, editing and production. Mert and the crew seemed to work more than a little magic in bringing this project to life despite significant adversity. Even though there was no budget the underwater shoots were conducted at a safe, professional level. All divers were trained and certified, dive computers were used by all, two safety divers were employed during critical shoots. As a result of careful planning and implementation, there were no in-water accidents or incidents during the film. There were many challenges in the shooting of the film however and with no budget to help surmount problems. For instance they started out with IRME, the sponge boat highlighted in the movie. Plus they had a 12 m trawler support boat and one of the last working hookah boats in Bodrum. The later two boats were withdrawn from the project very early on due to family problems. Also, two of the three production divers were to come with the vessels who were also lost to the project. They were to have some aerial photography which also fell through. Despite the setbacks the crew completed the project and very well too from what I can see in the trailer.

Mert told me that the nice (remarkable) thing was project was completed without much expenditure of money. "Whomever we went to, everybody supported us with something, the looking glass (AYNA) was constructed by a local guy. The protection cage for the propeller, sponges, suits were given by an ex-sponge diver, the sailing devices, sail and etc. was given by some local boat builders. The historical decoration was given by our friend whom was an ex-antique guy. All the crew in the movie are friends although Omer and the captain are actors in Turkish National Theatre."

Kuzey aptly demonstrates one downside of hookah setups, the parting of the diver from his air supply. There are many ways in which this can come about with the safe resolution up for grabs depending on how things work out.

One of the best fortunes was finding Kuzey (the boy diver) who was 15 years old then. He was a son of a friend of Mert. Originally the role would belonged to a prize winning actor/director and professional diver. Tragically he was shot through the arm during the GEZI protests in Taxim, Turkey last year. This happened just a week before film shooting was to start and caused him to miss the entire project as he was in rehab at the time. Mert was looking all over for a replacement, he saw Kuzey and asked him if he could dive and if he wanted to be in a movie? Kuzey said he would love it! Mert took him diving to see his capabilities the next day. Mert described how to hold the stone, his fins and walk and Kuzey pulled it off perfectly first time.

What an amazing story of commitment, community support and luck!

In addition to Mert the crew consists of actors:

Alptekin Serdengecti, Born in 1961, Ankara, graduated from Mimar Sinan Conservatory Theater Dept. Actor at National Theathre of Turkey in 1985-2009 period.

Omer Husnu Turat, Born in 1969 Ankara, graduated from Mimar Sinan University Conservatory Theater Dept. Actor at in National Theathre of Turkey since 1997.

Kuzey Aksoz, Born in Istanbul in1996, studied in Bilfen Collage for the primary & secondary schools. He is a professional kitesurfer* and ‘IRME’ is his 1st appearance as an actor.

* (I wonder if they could do a sequel in which kitesurfing factored in the film, ha!)

The production team includes:

DOP: Volkan Calisir, Born in Istanbul, 1980. Started photography at the age of 7, studied photography & video in Istanbul Bilgi University with full scholarship and also studied advertising in Istanbul University.

Camera Operator: Bengiz Ozdereli, Born in Istanbul, graduated from Istanbul Technical University as an architect & designer. He started his career as an underwater videographer in 1992. He has 38 awards in national & international videography & film festivals and attended many festivals as jury and jury head. He has a production company and working with TV & film production companies worldwide as providing underwater productions.

Camera Operator: Akin Bagcilar, Graduated from cinema department of Maltepe University in 2008. He is still working in Beng’S production company in music clips, advertisement, TV series & film projects as underwater camera operator & editor.

Art Director: Yasemin Sayibas Akyuz, Born in 1973, in Tokat. Studied textile engineering and then graphic design. She has been designing for companies around the globe for the last 15 years.

Producer: Hakan Akyuz, Hakan was born on 30th of November 1970 in Istanbul. He is working as an independent designer and marketing strategist for USA based companies last 15 years. He also have 10+ international awards regarding web and graphic design.

Essential Information

Director/Writer Mert Gokalp
Producer Hakan Akyuz/Mert Gokalp
Production Company Lupfilm, Beng’shark
Technical Information mov. HD
Film Ratio: 16;9
Sound: Stereo
Running Time 17.39 minutes
Country of Production Turkey
Date of completion September 2014
Sales & Marketing Hakan Akyuz / Burak Yamanlica
email Tel: +90 ; Tel:+905063364392

A typical bottom scene with nice blue water visibility.

The diver holds a skandalopetra stone or petra for short. This centuries old diving tool is of marble or granite, weighing between 8 and 14 kg (about 15 to 30 lbs), with rounded corners with a fusiform hydrodynamic shape. The petra had been in use by divers for about the last 2400 years in the Mediterranean Sea.


The mechanics of skandalopetradra diving including recent competitive diving adaptions are explored in depth at and These articles would be of interest to free divers in particular among other divers, watermen and the curious in general.

A period photo of a nargileh or hookah diver wearing a Fernez mask using a skandalopetradra stone and assisted by his Kolaouzieris in preparation for a descent.
From (translated from Russian to English)

In time sponge diving technology evolved from breath, hold naked or skandalopetradra diving to hard hat or scaphandro diving in the 1860's. A compressed air source now allowed divers to go deeper, stay down longer and without knowledge of barotrauma to become badly injured. It has been estimated that there may have been 10,000 diver fatalities in the fifty years of scaphandro use in the Mediterranean Sea. Part of the problem was the long term belief from skandalopetradra or naked diving that a rapid ascent was the best. This practice was continued with compressed air even with all the mortality and injury. In time the cumbersome hard hat apparatus was replaced with a more portable type of surface supplied air, the hookah or nargileh rig feeding a Fernez mask. The nargileh or hookah rig was the mode of diving used in this film. Finally, in the 1960's sponge divers started to transition to scuba diving. There is an excellent article on the subject of changing technology in sponge diving and barotrauma at

A scene from the film showing the captain and the former diver now cripple from a severe case of the bends. With the technological advances brought by scaphandro surface supplied air a sponge gold rush ensued in the Aegean in the mid 1800's. This resulted in depletion of sponge resources around the Greek and Turkish islands drove the sponge boats out into the Mediterranean to work the north African coast for ever increasing periods of time. For a time boats would go to sea for seven months at a time of almost continuous diving. This resulted in more hardship, fatalities and injury among the divers as well as more losses at sea through storms and groundings.

Mert preparing for a shallow scene riding the skandalopetra stone off along the bottom. The skandalopetra setup allowed a means of communication between the diver and surface, both routine and emergency recovery of the diver through an attachment on his wrist and transport over the bottom to aid in the search for sponges. This continued to work well once divers transitioned to hookah rigs from naked diving.

Now for the trailer for the film, IRME:

A short trailer from the IRME providing an insight into the setting and emotion of the piece.
Video link for mobile viewers:

A 1950's view across Bodrum harbor from the castle. Note the abundant period sailing craft, the means of making a living in those times.

The film has a dedication:

"Bodrum was the place for one of the bravest sponge divers

many of them died,
many of them got the bends
and this story is dedicated to them and;
the curse in their mouth..
the ambition in their eyes..
and the love they bear upon the sea.."

They plan to enter to film into various festivals in 2014 and 2015. After which Mert will likely setup more expanded distribution through DVD's, downloadable format, etc..

For now the film is to be shown in the following festivals with more to follow:

Antalya Golden Orange International Film Festival
Sep 20 - Sep 27, 2014

also known as Antibes Underwater Film Festival
30 October - 2 November 2014 Marseille - France

Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival
January 30 to February 7, 2015

Visit the IRME Facebook page for additional showings and distribution at:

and Mert's webpage devoted to the project at:

More about the sponge blights that have plagued the sponge fishery in the Aegean in:
"Fast-Spreading Blight Cripples Mediterranean Spongers' Livelihood"

More about sponge diving in the region can be found in Dr. Sue Papadakos' book, "SPONGE DIVERS The legendary fishermen of the Aegean" and in her article in National Geographic in 1999.

Walking off into the past or ... time will tell. There are new concepts in mariculture in combining growing sponges with fin fish farming in a controlled setting which might bring sponging back to Bodrum. Let's hope so and in the meantime, I am looking forward to viewing the film.

… and you can now view the short film IRME on youtube at:

FKA, Inc.

transcribed by:
Rick Iossi

Last edited by RickI; 05-04-2016 at 12:18 PM.
Reply With Quote
Old 03-09-2015, 09:41 PM
RickI's Avatar
RickI RickI is offline
Site Admin
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Florida
Posts: 8,697

I just came across a period movie dubbed to video from 1962 Greece dealing with sponge diving both by breath hold and compressed air. It is narrated in French.

and another with period imagery captioned in English:
FKA, Inc.

transcribed by:
Rick Iossi
Reply With Quote
Old 05-10-2018, 12:40 PM
RickI's Avatar
RickI RickI is offline
Site Admin
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Florida
Posts: 8,697

I just came across an interesting graphic from H.L. Ettman & Co., 1897, in the Library of Congress.

Click image for full sized photo.

H.L. Ettman & Co. or the H.L. Ettman Sponge Company were sponge and chamois importers. I believe this graphic capturing life, death and routine for sponge fishermen over a range of technology was used to create the following advertisement.

Sponges were gold in those days before the blight and growth of the synthetics market. The graphic highlights tasks confronting sponge fishermen in the Med and South Florida, Bahamas and Caribbean. The use of naked divers and the drop stone or skandalopetra was popular in the Med. but displaced by surface supplied air techniques given greater depths and duration of dives. The presence of US flagged vessels, some with Greek lines are confusing where skandalopetra divers are shown. Historically conchs largely out of Key West recovered shallow sponges using viewing buckets and hooks on poles. A large influx of divers from Greece came to Tarpon Springs with more sophisticated and efficient in-water harvesting techniques. Overfishing, resource depletion and conflicts soon came about. There was the Sponge War between the Keys Conchs and Greeks, .

A movie was even made about the conflict, "Beneath Twelve Mile Reef" (1953) staring a young Robert Wagner. You can see the movie at:

The various harvesting techniques are shown in the graphic although it was largely confined to hook boats and hard hat divers in our part of the world from the early 20th century on. Some of the problems are depicted including a "seizure" and attempted rescue, even providing a snack to a really large shark? It was a tough life in short.

With heavy harvesting there was harmful resource depletion explored in depth along with the social conflict at: and then a pervasive blight which brought the collapse of the industry in Florida, the Bahamas.

The Ettman Company had some problems independent of this with a suit brought by the Federal Trade Commission for the sale of "adulterated" sponges, who knew? I found the graphic in the Library of Congress.
FKA, Inc.

transcribed by:
Rick Iossi

Last edited by RickI; 05-10-2018 at 02:04 PM.
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 10:05 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.11
Copyright ©2000 - 2022, vBulletin Solutions Inc.

Do not advertise outside of [COM] Forums.
Do not show disrespect for others in your postings.
Users can be denied access to this Site without warning.
FKA, Inc., it’s officers and moderators are not responsible
for the content of the postings and any links or pictures posted.

Report Problems by PM to “administrator” or via email to

Copyright FKA, Inc. 2004, All Rights Reserved.