Spanish coin surfaces on Brevard County beach after Hurricane Nicole

Have treasure hunters hit the jackpot?

BONSTEEL PARK, Fla. – In the world of television news, you never know when you’re going to run across an unexpected story (it actually kind of goes with the territory).

Such was the case Thursday morning when News 6 reporter James Sparvero was on his way from one Nicole story to another. He ran across a group of people walking the beach of Bonsteel Park about 2 miles north of Sebastian Inlet. The group, armed with metal detectors, were treasure hunters looking for anything unearthed from the hurricane’s high winds and beach erosion.

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And, you guessed it, at least one person thinks he came up big.

The picture below is of an inauspicious blackish-green chunk of metal that could be an old Spanish coin worth somewhere in the neighborhood of about $400. And strangely enough, coins of this vintage are worth more in their natural state versus being cleaned up.

Spanish coin surfaces at Brevard County beach (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

But where did this coin come from? Is Florida’s east coast a secret haven for Spanish plunder?

Why yes, it is.

James and the unnamed treasure hunter think Nicole may have caused enough beach erosion to help anyone with patience and a decent metal detector find remnants of shipwrecks from the 18th century. Specifically, treasure hunters in this part of the state are always on the look out for coins and jewelry from ships from 1715 (and to a lesser extent, 1733).

On July 31, 1715, a flotilla of Spanish ships ran into a hurricane off the eastern coast of Florida.

The 1715 Treasure Fleet or Plate Fleet (plate comes from the Spanish word plata which translates in English to the word silver) had departed Cuba on their way back to Europe loaded with gold, silver, tobacco, and other riches from the New World. Eleven of the 12 ships were lost at sea; the 12th ship, a French warship named Le Griffon, made it back to Europe because the captain sailed into the storm rather than letting the storm push his ship into the coastline.

Eighteen years later, another fleet of Spanish ships sank in a similar location.

Though the Spanish were able to recover some of their valuable cargo, both wrecks went largely forgotten over the next two centuries until a group of men discovered 3,500 to 4,000 silver coins on January 8, 1961, in what became known as the Cabin Wreck. The men had previously formed a company known as The Real Eight Company, Inc. and they are generally credited with kicking off modern day treasure hunting on the east coast of Florida.

But even with the big haul from the Real Eight and others since, people continue to search for more Spanish riches, coins and jewelry that could be worth billions.

Of the eleven ships that sank in 1715, only seven have been found. One of the found 1715 ships, the Urca de Lima, which was discovered in 1928, is protected as a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve (a 1733 ship named the San Pedro is also protected). Still missing from 1715 are the Santa Rita y Animas, the Maria Galante, the El Señor San Miguel, and the El Ciervo.

The Maria Galante and Sana Rita y Animas are believed to be somewhere off the coast of Cape Canaveral. Historians however believe the El Señor San Miguel and the El Ciervo could be as far north of Brevard County as Amelia Island (near the Florida/Georgia border).

With four ships still waiting to be found and an unknown amount of gold and silver still buried close to the Florida coastline, treasure hunters armed with metal detectors will continue to scour the beaches, especially after Atlantic coast hurricanes.

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About the Authors:

Donovan is WKMG-TV's executive producer of digital enterprise

James joined News 6 in March 2016 as the Brevard County Reporter. His arrival was the realization of a three-year effort to return to the state where his career began. James is from Pittsburgh, PA and graduated from Penn State in 2009 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.