The water off the Florida coast can be treacherous at times, especially during hurricane season. Today, mariners have early warning systems that can alert them to dangerous storms, but 300 years ago, sailors were, quite literally, at the mercy of the winds.

Hurricanes, together with cyclones, are the deadliest natural force on the planet. Just off Florida’s coastline, which stretches some 1,200 miles, there are an estimated 5,000 shipwrecks. Many of them have remained undiscovered for centuries.

Treasures from Shipwrecks

Some of these ships even took priceless treasures with them to the bottom of the ocean. Because of the large concentration of shipwrecks, both known and undiscovered, off the coast of Florida, the state is a mecca for divers and treasure seekers.

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Treasure hunting requires patience, along with skills and knowledge. Every year, people search the water and the beaches of the Sunshine State with metal detectors to uncover gold and silver coins, along with other artifacts.

Looking for Priceless Needles in a Watery Haystack

There are no guarantees with treasure diving. Most days, divers come up empty handed. The ocean is vast and unforgiving. It is also ever-changing. The tropical storms swirling around Florida are constantly stirring up the seafloor.

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Big payoffs are possible if the treasure divers know where to look and when to look. After hurricanes and tropical storms blow through an area, the sand and sediment on the bottom moves and shifts. This is often when hidden treasures are revealed.

Know the Legalities of Treasure Hunting

Searching for sunken treasure does not guarantee you will find a trove of priceless goods. And even if you did, there are legal considerations you need to follow. It is not as simple as “finders’ keepers.” Finding treasure is one thing … keeping it is another.

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In most cases, according to the Florida state department of historical resources, a permit is not needed to dive in search of shipwrecks or to metal detect along public beaches. If you locate valuable, undiscovered artifacts, however, you should report the find to the Bureau of Archaeological Research. And refrain from collecting the items until the site can be studied.

Millions in Spanish Coins

While searching the Florida waters a few summers ago, a three-man diving crew made an historically important and valuable discovery. They found a trove of Spanish gold and silver coins, valued at $4.5 million, on the ocean’s bottom.

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After making the find, Brent Brisben followed the proper channels to secure the rights to the wreckage under the name of his salvage company, 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels. That doesn’t mean the divers will get all the treasure. The state of Florida typically takes 20%.

“Like It Fell into the Water Yesterday

Brent Brisben and his crew had been searching the shallow water off Vero Beach from Brisben’s boat, the S/V Capitana. The dive crew was looking near the spot of a previously discovered find when William Barlett, a hobby diver with Brisben’s crew, first spotted the treasure.

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“The gold looks like it fell into the water yesterday,” Bartlett explained. How could that be? The shifting sands at the bottom of the ocean, churned up by frequent storms, can quickly bury lost objects … or uncover them.

In Shallow Water

The amazing riches were not located in a deep, inaccessible spot. On the contrary, as Brisben explained, the bulk of the coins were so close that beach goers could have tripped over them. He stated, “We’re literally 10 to 15 feet off the beach in two to three feet of water.”

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Vero Beach is located on Florida’s Atlantic coast, approximately halfway between Cocoa Beach and West Palm Beach. This region is referred to as Florida’s Treasure Coast … an appropriate nickname. Brisben noted, “People love treasure stories. They resonate with everybody.”

A 300-Year-Old Discovery

The gold and silver coins Brisben and his team found came from one or more of ten Spanish treasure ships that went down in a violent hurricane in 1715 as they were sailing from Havana, Cuba, back to Spain.

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By traveling in a group, the ships had some protection against the pirates that roamed the waters of the East Coast and Caribbean. But they were still at the mercy of the unpredictable weather. The best they could do was to hug the coastline until they were further north.

A Bounty of Riches

The ships were in the Caribbean to acquire some of the more valuable resources from the region, particularly gold and silver, which they planned to take back to Spain to fill the coffers of the Spanish monarchy.

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These were the days of colonialism. Powerful European nations, like Spain, tried to establish a global empire by colonizing parts of the Western Hemisphere and taking natural resources from these parts. When the ten Spanish ships left port in Cuba on July 24, 1715, they were weighed down with tons of precious cargo.

A Deadly Hurricane

The ten Spanish ships were accompanied by one French ship, the Grifon. About a week into their voyage, the weather turned bad. The winds and waves battered the ships and pushed them closer to reefs and barrier islands.

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While the Spanish ships chose to stay close to the shoreline, the French vessel opted to ride out the storm further out to sea. The Grifon parted company with the rest of the ships. Good thing they did … The Grifon and its crew survived unscathed.

Too Much for All Ten Ships

The powerful winds and rough seas were too much for the ten Spanish ships. Each captain and crew fought their own losing battle against the forces of nature. The deadly hurricane sank all ten ships, one at a time.

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According to reports, one ship, the Nuestra Senora de la Regla, took about 120 tons of coins and 200 sailors with her when she sank. In all, nearly a thousand men perished when the ten Spanish ships wrecked.

Early Recovery Efforts

When word reached Spain about the hurricane and the loss of the ten ships … and the loss of all that gold … Spain had some of its officials in Havana send salvage ships to the area. By the following spring, roughly 80-percent of the treasure had been recovered.

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The remaining 20-percent of the cargo of gold and silver was not found. A few coins were found in the 1960s, but for the most part, the missing 20-percent of the treasure stayed elusive. That was all about to change … and the serendipitous find happened on a noteworthy date.

A Mind-Blowing Coincidence

Brent Brisben and his crew discovered the long lost Spanish treasure on July 31, 2015, exactly 300 years to the day that the ships were lost. According to reports filed by the captain of the Grifon, the Spanish ships succumbed to a hurricane that struck on July 15, 1715.


The odds of finding sunken treasure are astronomical. It is even more incredible to recover lost gold on the anniversary of the shipwreck. Brisben and his team didn’t immediately know what treasure they located. When they did, they were amazed at the mind-blowing coincidence. “It’s crazy, honestly,” Brisbane said.

The Treasure Included Some Rare Coins

In all, the treasure included about 350 coins and is valued at $4.5 million. Historians and coin collectors alike were especially thrilled to learn that the treasure included nine extremely rare coins. Prior to Brisben’s discovery, only 20 of these coins were known to exist.

Source: Wikipedia

These rare coins are royal 8 escudos, a large, detailed gold coin that is one of the most sought-after coins for collectors around the world. Considered the elite of colonial coin minting, the royal 8 escudos are perfect in shape, uniformity, and thickness. The design of the coins has to be perfectly struck to be considered “royal 8”.

Recovering the Coins

Brisben and Bartlett spent five days salvaging the submerged treasure from the shores of Vero Beach. The sandy sea floor was still hiding many of the coins, but the crew was innovative in their search efforts.

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As Bartlett later explained, they used the propeller of their boat, the S/V Capitana, like a makeshift leaf blower to blow the sand away from the bedrock. The gold coins are too heavy to blow away. They remain in place.

A “Magical” Experience

When asked to describe finding millions of dollars’ worth of old Spanish coins, Brent Brisben could only say, “It’s been magical.” The thrill of the discovery was made all the sweeter because the trove was located on the 300th anniversary of the shipwrecks. He added, “There are energies involved in the shipwreck.”

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Because Brisben has secured ownership rights to the wreck, it is illegal for anyone to approach the site without permission. For the most part, serious treasure divers in Florida respect the salvage rights of other divers.

The Life of a Treasure Diver

For William Bartlett, diving is a side gig that is more of a hobby than an income generator. He claims to be drawn more to the thrill of the hunt and the comradery with other divers than to the prospect of getting rich.

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In a recent interview, Bartlett explained, “This is what we all come here to do. For four months out of the year, we eat, sleep, and live treasure hunting. When we’re not actually treasure hunting, we’re usually talking about treasure hunting and hanging out with other treasure hunters.”