The Atocha Shipwreck

Writing on the Treehouse Wall

The Nuestra Seniora de Atocha more commonly known as The Atocha is one of the most famous Spanish shipwrecks off the coast of the Florida Keys. It was sunk in 1622 during a severe hurricane near the Dry Tortugas.

The Atocha had loaded up on gold, silver, copper, tobacco, gems, jewels, jewelry, and indigo from Cartagena, Colombia, Porto Bello, and Havana headed to Spain. The ship had met with many delays which kept it from its rendezvous in Havana with the Tierra Firme Fleet. The 28-ship convoy didn’t leave for Spain until September 4th, 1622, well into the hurricane season that begins in late July.

Due to the fact that the Atocha was a military escort it was the first choice of many wealthy passengers and was loaded down with an extraordinarily large percentage of the fleet’s treasures. During the storm the Atocha was lifted by a wave and smashed into the coral reefs and with its heavy load of treasure it was instantly dragged to the bottom. Everyone on board drowned except three sailors and two slaves.

When news reached Havana, Spanish authorities launched salvage operations on the Atocha and the other four ships that also sank in the storm. The Atocha sank in about 55 feet of water making the salvage effort near impossible. A second hurricane in October scattered the wreckage even more making it a lost cause.

Since the Atocha was unsalvageable it was soon forgotten and lost altogether. That is until American treasure hunter Mel Fisher spent over 16 years combing the ocean bottom for any sign of the lost Spanish vessel. In 1985 Mel’s son, Kane, radioed the news to Treasure Salvors headquarters that the search was over. The Atocha had been located. It was found in 55 feet of water exactly were the first salvagers had recorded it.

The items that have been salvaged form the Atocha have been valued upwards of half a billion dollars. But one of the most exquisite pieces found was in June 2011. Divers recovered an antique emerald ring worth an estimated $500,000. With the amount of new artifacts still being found, Mel Fisher’s company estimates that there is an additional half billion dollars worth of treasure still waiting to be discovered.


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