Pirates. Hurricanes. Treasure. Royal fleets. Sounds like a telling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island. Although I
would absolutely love to talk about my love of the old world novel, this story requires us to jump forward a few centuries from the time of Jim Hawkins to the more recent period of Mel Fisher. Have you heard his name before? Maybe you have. He’s a world famous treasure hunter. But unlike most treasure hunters these days, he definitely hit the mother lode.
Off the coast of the Florida Keys, about 55 feet under water, lies the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. If Mel Fisher doesn’t ring any bells, does that? The Atocha was a Spanish Galleon, a huge ship that transported gold, silver, and other pricey royal goods from the new colonies of the Americas back to Spain. Way back in the year 1622, this galleon met with the rest of it 28-vessel Spanish fleet in Havan, Cuba, carrying goods with a total worth of about two million pesos. With several unexpected delays and a report of an enemy Dutch fleet nearby, the Marquis of the fleet was forced to split his fleet into two groups and begin sailing back to Spain with a heightened fear of pirate raids and in the heart of hurricane season.
Well, you can imagine what happened next. The fleet took a beating by a hurricane soon after leaving port. Twenty of the fleet’s twenty-eight vessels pushed past the hurricane and were thrown out into clear, calm water, where they continued on their way home. The other eight weren’t so lucky, among which was the Atocha. Being thrust into the dangerous reefs of the Florida Keys, the Atocha was ripped apart.
Over $700 million of treasure was laid to rest in the hull of the Atocha alone. That is, until about 363 years later, when the location of the wreck was found. This brings us to our famous treasure hunter, Mel Fisher. In 1985, after over fifteen years of searching, starting each day with his famous optimistic motto “today’s the day”, Mel’s “Golden Crew” hit the mother lode. His website paints a picture of the discovery: “Thousands of artifacts, silver coins, gold coins, many in near mint condition, period and earlier amazing Spanish objects and wares, exquisite jewelry set with precious stones, gold chains, disks, a variety of armaments and even seeds (which later sprouted!) were recovered.”
Mel Fisher’s determination and lifelong dreams inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island had finally paid off. With the work he contributed, up to his unfortunate passing in 1998, and the continuing work of his crew and business mainly run by his children, over $400 million of the $700 million has been salvaged and preserved from the Atocha.
With that said, over $300 million of the gold awaits to be discovered at the bottom of the sea off the coast of the Florida Keys.
Spread out over a 50-mile stretch, the treasure can still be salvaged today. If you are an experienced diver and want to take a shot at finding sunken treasure, the Mel Fisher crew offers to take people out on the wreck to help find the treasure yourself! Or, if you’re a little less sea-going, but still love the history, there’s a variety of coins from the wreck for you to purchase online through their website.
Someday, maybe I’ll get my dad to teach me how to scuba dive. I’m sure the thrill of finding sunken treasure is something to experience!