Scuba Diving Wrecks
Over the last 400 years, many ships have used Florida’s coastal waters. From settlers to explorers, many have left their trace on the blue waters that surround the Sunshine State. We have put together three of the greatest wrecks that you can still dive and see.
The Nuestra Espana Fleet — 1733
The Nuestra Espana fleet was one of the last treasure fleets to cross the Atlantic Ocean for Spain. On Friday 13, 1733, the ships left Havana for their return voyage. The fleet consisted of three armed galleons and eighteen merchant ships filled with tanned hides, rare spices, precious jewels, silver and gold, all of which were needed for the economic survival of Spain.
The ships were grounded in the Florida Keys during a hurricane. The remains of the fleet were scattered over 80 miles throughout the Keys. The San Pedro’s remains were burned to the waterline by the Spanish to prevent looting by pirates. Locations of the wrecks were charted on an official map. Salvage work continued for years. When a final calculation of salvaged materials was made, more gold and silver had been recovered than had been listed on the original lists of cargo.
Professional archaeologists have studied 13 known shipwrecks from the fleet. A Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve is open at the San Pedro site for divers. The San Pedro is among the most picturesque of the 1733 wreck sites. She is located in a white sand pocket surrounded by turtle grass. Abundant marine life inhabits her grave. A large pile of ballast stones contain flat, red bricks from the ship’s galley. This site is one of Florida’s oldest artificial reefs, host to a variety of sea creatures living amidst ballast stones and coral heads.
The Emanuel Point Wreck — 1559
Spanish colonists planned to settle on Pensacola Bay in the 1550s. They were under the leadership of Tristán de Luna. These were actually the first Europeans to attempt to colonize what we now call the state of Florida. They were at anchor in the bay when a hurricane hit. Eleven ships and a number of the settlers were lost before the ships could finish unloading.
The site of the shipwreck was discovered in the early 1990s. A team from the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research found it during a survey of Pensacola Bay. The team found the lower hull of a colonial Spanish ship. The hull and its contents were well preserved. Over 3,000 artifacts, as well as the remains of plants and animals, have been studied. To date, only 20% of the site of Florida’s earliest shipwreck has been explored. This would be a great site for you to explore on your scuba-diving travels.
The Tierra Firme Fleet — 1622
The Tierra Firme fleet sailed from South America heading home to Spain. The fleet of 27 ships had a cargo estimated at more than $250 million, including silver from Peru and Mexico, gold and emeralds from Colombia, and pearls from Venezuela. Two ships, the Atocha and the Santa Margarita, were lost in the Florida Keys during a hurricane. Three hundred and eighty lives were lost when the two ships went down.
In 1985, salvager Mel Fisher found the Atocha in the Florida Keys. The Spanish treasure galleon contained tons of treasure. Mel Fisher’s Treasure Exhibit in Key West showcases Fisher’s search for underwater treasure. Recovered artifacts and gold pieces are currently on display.