New rules could limit the hunt of sunken treasure off Florida's coast

By Pamela V. Krol - Naples News

For years, sunken treasure off Florida’s coast has been a relative free-for-all for anyone with the time and ability to find it.

But proposed rules could make it harder for treasure hunters to collect the prized relics.

Some commercial salvers suggest the waters off of Florida contain more Colonial-era sunken treasure than any other place in the world, with a value estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

Salvage companies estimate at least a million dollars worth of treasure is in the Naples/Fort Myers area alone and artifacts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars are salvaged in and around Southwest Florida, by both commercial and recreational divers, each year.

Treasure hunting has been legal in Florida since the 1960’s. Recently, however, groups of marine archaeologists are fighting to have the practice outlawed.

Many in this camp consider treasure hunting to be little more than state-sanctioned looting of what they believe should be deemed historical sites. These groups are pushing for tougher laws and outright bans in many cases.

Over the past decade, marine archaeologists have successfully championed greater restrictions on Florida’s treasure hunting industry and have recently brought requests for modifications to the state’s rules governing the recovery of historical shipwrecks by private sector salvers.

Their requests would limit salvage permits to a period of one year and narrow search areas to one mile. They would also mandate that an archeologist be on board the search vessel.

The proposal would prohibit hunters from searching for treasure up to 500 yards offshore — the range that is considered the most treasure-rich because storms and hurricanes naturally wash shipwrecks toward the shore.

The rules could threaten the livelihoods of local treasure hunters, such as Captain Kym Ferrell, a Florida native who has been working aboard salvage vessels since he was 14.

He and a small crew of three to four people choose search sites based on historical research, instinct and knowledge of the local waters. Ferrell said he’s found treasure near Naples but would not say where.

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  • Cajun Born
    • 1. Cajun Born On 10/08/2011
    I agree these new laws seem to be popping up everywhere. I am sure most agree, that yes we need to protect sites from those who have only one interest and that being money and how they get it isn't important.

    Thus destroying historical sites and leaving the mess for others to pick up. I am only interested in seeing both sides protected and considered as valuable. Both the educated trained and concerned treasure hunters and the archaeologist/historians so they may do their part in the reporting and documentation of such finds ( treasure ).

    This is possible, by allowing the treasure hunter to hunt and find and own the treasure the treasure hunter finds and requiring the hunter to once claim has been made to report the site so those interested can study the claim area as the claim is reclaimed by and for the hunter who has spent the time and money to locate and retrieve said claim (site).

    It's the only fair and just way to do it. Any state claiming title to something even before it was a state is a bit ridiculous especially considering the state was not and is not spending a dime to protect locate or retrieve said site ( treasure ) In fact does the city, state and government not grant permits to those that build on theses sites without any claim to the property they build on ?

    Do they not allow these sites to be covered by concrete and high rise hotels each and everyday ! It is simply ridiculous that once someone finds something of value in an otherwise unnoticed or unknown area where it would otherwise be covered over or destroyed if not for the treasure hunters themselves, is just plain BS !

    Let's work together to protect and preserve both sides of history. So our grand children can talk about both the history and the treasure. Does anyone have any idea how much of this so called treasure is sold or traded by the very universities and museums that have claimed title to it over the years ?

    That's right they do and will continue to do so. If the treasure hunters put an effort into it I am sure we can work to change the laws and make it fair for everyone involved. Treasure hunters need a collective voice and if they ever want to be heard they need to start talking and working together and get out of the closets and shadows and bring this to into the light.

    Make the museums and universities explain how it is they can sell or trade these items they claimed were so important to them!Maybe then the politicians will start listening to the treasure hunters they have called looters in the past and see things through new eyes !

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