Hidden treasure really does exist, at least last month, off the coast of Florida, where a group of divers found 350 Spanish gold coins worth about $4.5 million in water only four feet deep.
The treasure was found by William Bartlett, Jonah Martinez and Dan Beckingham at the site of a 1715 Spanish fleet wreck. In order for permission to dive at the site, the team subcontracted with the “1715 Fleet Queens Jewels Salvage Crew,” the entity that owns rights to the wreck.
The treasure was found on the 300th anniversary of the wreck - to the day.
On July 31, 1715, eleven ships filled with treasure were heading to Spain from Havana, Cuba when they came upon a severe hurricane off of Florida’s coast. The storm sunk the fleet and as many as 1,000 lives were lost in what is considered one of Spain’s biggest maritime tragedies.
Hundreds of gold coins were scattered along the coastline, waiting to be found.
William Bartlett is the one that found a good number of those coins. On the third dive of a long day, Bartlett and his crew came across a gold coin. He then found several more coins which, when totalled up, are worth $4.5 million - the most valuable find from the 1715 wreck in several decades.
As part of the collection, the team found nine special coins called “Royals.” Royals were made specifically for King Phillip V and are incredibly rare. In fact, before this dive, only 20 of the coins were known to exist in the world.
Brent Brisben, whose salvage company owns rights to the 1715 shipwreck site, was beyond thrilled. “Five years ago, before I got into this business, I would have told you that magic is in fairytales. 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’s currently unfolding.”
Brisben’s company bought the salvage rights to the shipwreck site five years ago from Mel Fisher’s family, who are avid treasure hunters. In the 1980s, Fisher won a lengthy court battle over the rights to the shipwrecks. During the legal proceedings, Spain never asserted an interest in the lost treasure - therefore it has no claim to it.
The state of Florida on the other hand, did assert a claim, and it is entitled to 20% of found treasure for display in one of Tallahassee’s museums. The remaining artifacts discovered are split between Brisben’s company and the lucky ones who find the treasure (after a federal judge approves).
As far as any treasure that finds its way to shore, “it’s finders, keepers,” Brisben said.