Treasure hunter Brent Brisben, captain and owner of 1715 Fleet - Queens Jewels LLC, displays their recent discovery of more than 350 gold coins valued at $4.5 million found off the coast of Wabasso Beach on July 30-31, 2015, during a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015 in Sebastian, Fla. (Eric Hasert/The Stuart News via AP)
300-year-old sunken treasure offers more than gold coins
August 27, 2015
William Bartlett had just started diving on a 300-year-old shipwreck. He was using a metal detector. He was in the waters off Florida's Atlantic Coast. That is when he found his first Spanish gold coin. Then one coin became two. And two became many more. He had to stuff them into his diving glove.
"Every fingertip was stacked with gold coins" when he came back up. "And we knew then we were into something super special," Jonah Martinez, said. He is the captain of the boat.
Martinez and Bartlett found more over the next two days. That was along with another treasure hunter. His name was Dan Beckingham. They found 350 coins. They were worth $4.5 million. It is the most prized find from the 1715 shipwreck site in decades.
Eleven ships that made up the 1715 fleet were heading to Spain. They were filled with treasure. They had left for home from Havana. It was July 31, 1715. They encountered a hurricane. The ships were off Florida's central coast. The winds and waves smashed the ships onto reefs. As many as 1,000 lives were lost. It was one of colonial Spain's biggest maritime disasters off Florida.
Now it is turning out to be a treasure trove.
A family of treasurer hunters found $1 million in gold coins. That was in June. The coins were found in an area south of the latest discovery.
The latest group of treasure hunters to find millions of dollars in gold coins from the 1715 fleet shipwrecks said they believe "magic" has played a role. The discoveries this summer have come on the 300th anniversary of the sinking of the Spanish galleons.
"We all enjoy doing this. And we all know the odds when we are out there and finding nothing," Martinez said. "To be able to go and do that. And then succeed in something like that. It is more than any treasure."
They expect more discoveries to come. About $400 million in coins are still undiscovered. The search is in a coastal area. It stretches from Melbourne to Fort Pierce. The area is known as Florida's Treasure Coast.
"Five years ago, before I got into this business. I would have told you that magic is in fairy tales," said Brent Brisben. His salvage company is called Queens Jewels. The company owns rights to the 1715 fleet shipwreck site.
"I truly now believe that there is an energy that is around these shipwrecks. That I can't count. I truly believe that these shipwrecks wanted their story to continue. That this magically happened on this anniversary. Because this story still needs to be told. And it is currently unfolding."
Anywhere from a 12 to 24 subcontractors have signed up with Brisben's company. That is to search the shipwreck site each summer. The subcontractors are responsible for their boats. They are responsible for their crew. And for other expenses. That can tally up to $50,000 each summer.
Brisben's company purchased the salvage rights to the shipwreck five years ago. The rights were bought from the family of treasure hunter Mel Fisher. He won a lengthy court battle. That was in the 1980s. The decision gave him the rights to the shipwrecks. The Spanish government never stated an interest on the lost treasure. That was during the legal battle. So it has no claim on it. The state of Florida did state a claim. It is given 20 percent of found items. They are shown in a museum in Tallahassee. The rest of the discoveries are split. They are split between Brisben's company and whoever finds the treasure. This is after a federal judge in Miami signs off on it.
Sometimes treasure is found washed up on land. When that happens Brisben said "it is finders, keepers."
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How is this discovery a story of both tragedy and success?
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