In the 1600s and 1700s, fleets of Spanish galleons sailed regularly past the Keys carrying goods and treasures from the New World back to Spain. Many such galleons sank in Keys waters, and modern-day shipwreck salvage divers have sought their wreck sites in the region for decades.
Divers can work alongside professional treasure salvage experts excavating the wreck site of the legendary 1622 Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha.
Approximately $400 million in Atocha treasure and artifacts was discovered in 1985 by the late shipwreck salvor Mel Fisher in approximately 55 feet of water 35 miles off Key West. The weeklong Atocha Dive Adventure was created by Fisher's descendants, who are still seeking the rest of the rich cargo listed on the vessel's manifest.
In March, 2011, a team of divers made a remarkable discovery — a centuries-old 40-inch gold chain, bearing an enameled gold cross and two-sided engraved religious medallion. The rosary was recovered from the sea floor during the search for a sunken 17th-century Spanish galleon. The piece is believed to be from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which sank approximately 35 miles west of Key West during a 1622 hurricane. It was discovered by Bill Burt, a diver for Mel Fisher's Treasures, as he was seeking the Atocha's sterncastle. Tentatively valued at about $250,000, the rosary contains 55 links resembling cotterpins. Its cross measures 2 inches by 1.25 inches and its oval medallion features an engraved Virgin Mary and chalice. The chain also contains a black bead and two halves of a gold floweret.
The Atocha Dive Adventure includes training in commercial treasure salvage techniques, behind-the-scenes tours of Key West's Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and the Fishers' artifact conservation laboratory, a day of diving on the new Vandenberg artificial reef and two full days of diving the Atocha wrecksite.
Any participating diver who discovers gold, silver or artifacts will receive a previously conserved Atocha piece of equal value, up to $2,500, from the Fisher family's private collection.