Florida’s Treasure Coast, located just an hour away from Brevard County, is one of the most popular regions in Florida. Treasure hunting here is simultaneously exciting and relaxing. Residents and visitors have found all sorts of treasures on beaches stretched from Brevard County to Indian River County, where some of the most notable discoveries have occurred.
Several shipwrecked treasures have washed up on Florida’s Treasure Coast and we bet there are more treasures to be found. Not only will you find out about the history behind Florida’s Treasure Coast, but we will tell you where the best treasure hunting spots are.
The Spanish Treasure Fleet
Back in the 17th century, a fleet of Spanish ships containing treasures obtained in the New World set sail in the area. This was also referred to as the Plate Fleet because there was a lot of silver onboard the boats (Plata is Spanish for silver). Violent hurricanes struck the fleet and the crew got stuck in the Bahama Channel with no way to escape. Eleven of the twelve ships sank, and the majority of the crew members did not survive. The treasure consisting of gold, silver, and jewels fell to the bottom of the ocean.
What Happened to the Survivors?
The ship that was able to outrun the hurricane made it to the Florida coast and set up camp. Don Francisco Salmon, the fleet’s admiral divided the remaining men into two – one crew was sent inland to find help and the others were tasked with making a new boat. Some survivors tried to recover the treasure, but in that day and age it was an impossible endeavor.
A Local Discovery
Rumors of the lost treasure spread and ships around the world came to try and find it. However, it wasn’t until the 1950’s, after another hurricane swept through the area, that parts of the 1715 Treasure Fleet were discovered. The storm blew away the local sand dunes around Melbourne’s Sebastian Inlet, revealing the shipwrecks.
Kip Wagner, a local resident, formed the Real Eight Company to search for the lost treasure. After many years, in 1964, Kip Wagner estimated that between Real Eight and another group – Mel Fisher’s Treasure Salvors – recovered treasures in excess of $3 million in gold, silver, jewelry, and artifacts – with over $14 million worth of treasure still lurking beneath those Floridian waters.
As you can imagine, this sparked quite a bit of interest in the area. Since the end of the 1960’s, divers and beachcombers alike began to flock to Florida, and they continue to do so today. In 2014, the 1715 Treasure Fleet was declared the most valuable shipwreck by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Cape Canaveral is home to some of the most colonial shipwrecks in the entire world. Given today’s technology – GPS, sonar, radar, various detection equipment – treasure hunting has undergone a metamorphosis. However, a simple, yet good quality metal detector is equally as efficient. There have been plenty of solo treasure hunters combing the beach with their metal detectors that have uncovered treasures beyond their wildest dreams.
What Beaches to Hit
Melbourne Beach is a great place for the novice treasure hunter. To this day, pieces of silver and various other valuables have washed up on the shores of Melbourne beach. In 2015, Jonah Martinez and his friends discovered over $4 million dollars’ worth of coins and artifacts from the 1715 Spanish Fleet on Melbourne Beach with their trusty metal detectors. Overall, Martinez has earned approximately $15 million in his treasure-hunting career.
In 2019, Melbourne Beach has uncovered the top portion of a headdress from a burial site dating back to 100 to 700 A.D. from the Moche civilization in Peru. In 2004, divers found an iron cannon, while other expeditions have found ship timbers, silver platters, and a flintlock pistol.
It’s important to note that Melbourne Beach is home to quite a few private properties, so make sure you pay attention because metal detecting is prohibited in those areas.
The Sebastian Inlet State Park, which is home to the McLarty Treasure Museum, sits on both sides of the Sebastian Inlet and forms the boundary between Indian River and Brevard counties. In fact, the Sebastian Inlet is at the center of Treasure Coast. Treasure seekers have had a lot of success finding loot at the high-tide line, where the softest sand lies.
In 1988, $300,000 worth of treasure was found on the Sebastian Inlet. In 2013, a group of treasure hunters were searching off the coast of the Sebastian Inlet and their metal detectors picked up about $200,000 worth of gold coins. These are just some of the big finds, but treasure enthusiasts find coins all the time, especially after big storms.
Remember – anything found in the state parks or dunes doesn’t count. Make sure you stick to what you find on the public beach.
Lori Wilson Park
Cocoa Beach’s Lori Wilson Park is one of the lesser-known sites for metal detecting. Treasure hunters like this spot because there are plenty of places to have a picnic lunch. It has on-site vendors, outdoor showers, a dog park, restrooms, barbeque grills, playgrounds, and pavilions. You can even rent a metal detector from Time & Treasures, a nearby clock repair shop. This spot is a local secret – so try not to spill the beans. Remember – keep your metal detectors away from the dunes, as you won’t be allowed to reap the benefits of your loot.
Wabasso Beach, just north of Vero Beach, is yet another local treasure trove. In 2020, Jonah Martinez found 22 silver coins worth over $6,000 (USD) on Wabasso Beach. Items from the San Martin, a Spanish ship that sank in 1618, has also been salvaged here. While it may look like slim pickings, there is still treasure to be found beneath the sand.
Captain Greg Bounds found 48 gold coins, worth approximately $250,000. Captain Bounds works for the 1715 Treasure Fleet Queen’s Jewels salvage company, and it is their third discovery since 2010, when they found a bronze swivel gun packed with silver and gold coins. They also discovered a solid gold bird statue dating back to 1715 that is worth approximately $885,000.
Imagine what you might find beneath the sand after a particularly strong storm!
Tips for Treasure Hunting
First and foremost – confirm that the area you are about to search is a public beach and not a private property. Also remember that anything found in the water or in the sand dunes is the government’s property.
As we said earlier, the best time to go treasure hunting is right after a storm. You should start at the high tide mark in the soft sand. You should also look for places that have a thick deposit of shells, which indicate particularly strong currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Keep your eyes open and look for anything shiny, dark, or oddly shaped. Remember that coins could be inside other containers that would have been oxidized and beaten up by the high pressure of the ocean’s salty water.
Last but not least, you need the proper equipment. This includes a good quality metal detector (ranging from $1000 for top of the line to $100 for a basic one) along with a sand sifter, a pail, and a basic garden scoop. Remember to swing the metal detector back and forth slowly and lay out a path for yourself much like you would if you were mowing the lawn, so that you won’t waste time going over the same areas twice. Once the metal detector beeps, break apart the sand to uncover your treasure and put it through your sifter. Be kind and refill the hole so as to not potentially break the ankle of a fellow treasure hunter.
Now that you know where the loot-littered hotspots are – you are one step closer to the end of the rainbow. Good Luck!
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