For about three centuries beginning in the 15th, the Spanish transported considerable wealth in gold, silver, jewelry and trade goods from their colonies in Central and South America through the Caribbean and back to Spain to help pay for their many wars.

The most famous of their convoys was the Tierra Firme Treasure Fleet. The 1622 fleet consisting of 28 galleons encountered a fast moving and severe hurricane just off Key West, Florida. Eight ships and hundreds of lives were lost. The Santa Margarita and the Atocha ran aground on reefs and sank close to each other. The Spanish did salvage some of the Santa Margarita's manifest but they never did find the Atocha. Fast forward 363 years - Mel Fisher, leader of a treasure hunting consortium, located this bounty worth millions, arguably the largest find ever. This Bishop's emerald and gold cross was one of the fabulous Atocha discoveries.

Not everything has been found. Just last month, divers discovered a small sealed lead box from the Santa Margarita, containing thousands of pearls. These are considered rare because of their age, condition and provenance. Pearls, once outside their oysters would not survive for long in a marine environment but these were protected inside the lead box which in turn was buried under silt. The value of this latest find has been pegged at over a million dollars.

Painting : Spanish treasure fleet being loaded by an unknown 16th century artist.

Wikipedia : Spanish treasure Fleet
Wikipedia : Nuestra Senora de Atocha
Guardian UK, June 16, 2007 : Thousands of Pearls found in Shipwreck
Mel Fisher Heritage Society Museum Official Site
Blue Water Ventures
Shipwreck Treasures Inc : The Atocha and the Tierra Firme Fleet