Each year, visitors with metal detectors scour the beaches off the Florida east coast hoping to find some of the gold, silver, emeralds, diamonds, or other treasures from the sunken Spanish Galleons. Although some of it has been recovered, there is a whole lot of it still out there waiting to be found. Here’s a brief summary of what you need to know.
In 1715, a group of Spanish merchant ships were carrying tons of precious treasure from the New World back to Spain. It is commonly accepted that there were 11 ships in the fleet. They traveled in a close group to protect themselves from pirates, and they stayed near the shoreline because their navigational skills were poor. A hurricane struck, and it is believed that all of them were destroyed and sank off the Florida coast. Seven wreckage sites have been located. The remains of the sunken ships, and their treasures, are scattered along an area that is known as the Treasure Coast, which runs from Floridana Beach to Fort Pierce.
In 1980 a marine salvage Company, owned by Mr. Mel Fisher, procured exclusive lease rights from the State of Florida to salvage those wreckage sites. The lease is renewed each year and provides for a percentage of the salvaged finds be given to the State. In June, 2010, Mel Fisher’s Company sold a portion of the lease to Brent Bisben, a real estate developer from Cincinnati, who now operates and controls the salvage of most of those sites.
Visitors often wonder where the wreckage is located, and whether they can they use their metal detectors. The center of each salvage site is located at the following coordinates:
Site #1: Exploration Area – A 3 mile long, 3000 yard wide strip from latitude 27 ° 55.700′ N to latitude 27° 53.280′ N.
Site #2: 27° 49.800′ N, 80° 25.550′ W
Site #3: 27° 48.200′ N, 80° 24.700′ W.
Site #4: 27° 46.000′ N, 80° 23.830′ W
Site #5: 27° 43.800′ N, 80° 22.800′ W
Site #6: 27° 38.300′ N, 80° 20.900′ W
Site #7: 27° 35.800′ N, 80° 19.650′ W.
Site #8: 27° 25.300′ N, 80° 16.500′ W.
Site #9: 27° 19.000′ N, 80° 12.300′ W
Most are very close to shore, some as close as 400 yards (366 meters). However, the leased area includes a 3000 yard (2.7 kilometers) radius around each site. That means you cannot search in the water within this radius without a permit from the lessee. On the other hand, the shoreline, between the base of the dunes and the average low tide line, is excluded from the lease. This means that you CAN use your metal detector on the shore. Just be sure to stay out of the water.
So what can you find? Every so often someone does find a gemstone or gold or silver coin on the beach. However, if it was easy, the beach would be standing-room only. Remember that gold and silver are heavy, and readily sink. They have been sinking into the sand at the bottom of the ocean since the year 1755. While heavy storms may stir up some of this booty, the odds are pretty slim of finding anything on the shore. But it does happen, and you could be the next one to find a piece of this historical treasure.
Shipwrecks In Florida Waters by Robert F. Marx, 1979
Florida East Coast Shipwreck Project, Mel Fisher Center Inc, 2002 Season Report