In a previous blog post we described the historical significance of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha – a famous Spanish fleet ship that was carrying so much gold, silver, and other treasure that its destruction at the hands of a hurricane actually affected the Spanish economy at the time.
When they discovered that the Atocha was lost, the Spanish wasted no time in sending another small fleet to the wreck site at the Dry Tortugas to try and salvage the Atocha’s precious cargo. The wreck site was a relatively shallow part of the ocean – only 55 or so feet deep – so they stood a decent chance at recovering a significant portion of the cargo. Unfortunately, hardly a month after the Atocha sunk, yet another hurricane blew through the area and scattered the cargo and wreckage even further. The Spanish spent years scouring the site trying to recover the Atocha’s lost cargo. They made some headway by recovering nearly half of the Margarita (another ship that sunk alongside the Atocha), but they eventually abandoned the search.
Hundreds of years later in the 1970s, Mel Fisher stepped up to the challenge. He put everything he had into a joint venture to search for the “Atocha Mother Lode” – which lasted 16 years. Finally, after years of painstaking searching, he was finally rewarded in 1985 with one of the greatest sunken treasures ever found. The Atocha Mother Lode that Fisher found included 40 tons of gold and silver – contained 114,000 silver coins, 1,000 silver bars, silver artifacts, gold coins, and a load of very rare Muzo emeralds from Columbia. At the time, the find was valued at $450 million. But it may be worth well more than $600 million by today’s precious metal prices.
Astoundingly, much of the Atocha’s cargo is still missing. The ship’s stern castle, which contained the captain’s quarters and also the most valuables treasures, was never recovered and is still lost at sea. In addition, some 300 silver bars, eight bronze cannons, and other items of “plain” treasure are still unaccounted for. That’s one heck of a sunken treasure!