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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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September 2021    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 47, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Wonderful Thing About Gold as Discovered by Mel Fisher

from the September, 2021 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In the '70s, Indiana-born Mel Fisher, a dive store owner from California, stumbled across the 1622 wreck of the Spanish galleon, the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, west of Key West. It had been loaded with treasure, and his perseverance in tracking it down made him and his supporters rich and famous. Today, Key West hosts a museum devoted to their decades of effort in recovering gold artifacts.

Atocha' gold spent 350 years buried beneath the ocean and sand off the Florida Keys before Fisher found it. With a specific gravity about twice that of lead, a one-kg. (2.2 lb.) ingot is about the size of an iPhone, making it unique in its absolute density. When other metals get covered in growth or deteriorate, gold continues to shine. Its specific gravity is what Goldfinger called its "divine heaviness."

Although Fisher's team recovered many artifacts, including some of the finest emeralds in the world, few gold coins have been found. They weren't listed on the ship's manifest, so those few were probably carried aboard by rich aristocrats or clergymen. The remains of the wreck are only 30 feet deep, and Fisher's Treasures team still searches the surrounding seabed.

It's become a family tradition with some. Zach Moore's parents both worked the wreck site. On one dive in 1985, Zach's father, Bill Moore, and others found 165 pounds of gold finger bars, chains and discs. His mother, Julie Moore, also a diver on the Atocha site during the mother lode days, recovered several Atocha emeralds. More than 35 years later, on July 16 of this year, Zach Moore, diving from the J B Magruder and working with an underwater metal detector, came across a gold coin glinting in the sand. It's worth about $98,000 today.

It's the 121st gold coin recovered from the galleon that sunk in a hurricane 35 miles from Key West, now 400 years ago. But it continues to shine.

PS: In 1986, Hollywood produced Dreams of Gold: The Mel Fisher Story, with Cliff Robertson and Loretta Swit, and National Geographic created the documentary Atocha, Quest for Treasure.

You can't watch these wondering what it would be like to be part of the drudgery of everyday diving, to one day find yourself a millionaire. The Mel Fisher Story is a great yarn, and had you gone to the Dive Equipment and Marketing Shows in the '80s, you would have had a chance to meet the man himself, a character indeed. He passed away in 1998, still dreaming of more discoveries.

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