Friday, February 17, 2017

Florida's Treasure Coast

On August 20, 2015 a group of divers from 1715 Fleet--Queens Jewels, LLC made headlines when they recovered Spanish gold coins valued at $4.5 million off the coast of Florida near Vero Beach.  The find is presumed to be just a small portion of the lost holdings of the Spanish fleet of 1715.

On our day off from the Fellsmere, FL, Habitat for Humanity build, Tim and I found gold, too, when we visited McMurty Treasure Museum, a small museum supported by Florida State Parks.  But it wasn't shiny coins we found.  Instead, we learned the intriguing story of the Lost Fleet of 1715.

For almost three centuries after Spain discovered the New World, the silver and gold dug from the mountains of Mexico and South America were transported by ships back to Spain.  However, the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1715) drained Spain's coffers.  King Philip V was desperate to replenish his treasury.  And not only that!  His queen, Isabel de Farnesio, the former Duchess of Palma, refused to consummate their marriage until he paid in full the marriage settlement, preferably in jewels and gold.

Meeting those demands, however, received a severe blow in 1715 when a hurricane sank that year's fleet on the shoals between Sebastian and Fort Pierce, an area now called Florida's Treasure Coast.  Twelve Spanish galleons filled with gold, silver and jewels had begun the next leg of their voyage after a stop in Havana, Cuba.  All save one ship were wrecked by the storm.  A thousand sailors and passengers drowned, but another 700 survivors struggled to shore.  To this day coins and jewels are still found in the shallow waters off the coast and even on the beach after a storm.

Unfortunately, we didn't find any Spanish treasure on the day of our visit.  However, just down the road from the museum is the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, a treasure of another kind.

Pelican Island has the distinction of being the first wildlife refuge ever established in the United States.  On March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt declared this area a nature preserve in an effort to save the last brown pelican rookery on the east coast of Florida.  

The refuge's Centennial Trail is a boardwalk to an overlook of the island.  Each plank lists the name and year a national preserve was created.  Pelican Island has the place of prominence, but I grew up near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in central Kansas.  

Maybe that's why I'm partial to nature refuges.  I think they improve the quality of life for all of us, not just wildlife.  Who knows what future scientific advances will come from the study of the flora and fauna set aside as a preserve?

 A lucrative market for birds' feathers to adorn women's hats prompted hunters to kill thousands of birds in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Paul Kroegel, a German immigrant and Vero Beach resident, took a brave stand by warding off feather hunters from Pelican Island with his 10-gauge, double barrel shotgun.  In 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt established the preserve, the federal government hired Kroegel as Refuge Manager.  His salary?  One dollar per month!

Perhaps he believed he was well-reimbursed for the privilege of preserving the pelicans.  Treasure, indeed!


  1. Wow! It's cool to see the Quivira sign featured among your photos. Enjoy the side trips between builds!

    1. I thought seeing the Quivira name on a plank was proof positive that your neck of the woods is pretty famous. Definitely cool!