Sport divers go deep for trinkets and treasure

A diver with Mel Fisher's Treasures holds up pieces of gold

By Rob Lovitt - MSNBC

Forget the gold in them thar hills; these days, big treasure troves are being found at the bottom of the ocean.

Consider, for example, the Mantola, a sunken British steam ship found off the coast of Ireland in early October. Torpedoed in 1917, the vessel is believed to hold 20 tons of silver with a current worth of around $18 million.

It’s enough to make a recreational diver grab his or her scuba tanks and dive overboard — even if the potential haul is a bit less precious.

“What we’d consider treasure, those guys would just laugh at,” said Dave Sommers, owner of Dive Hatteras in Cape Hatteras, N.C. “A lot of us are just artifact hounds, looking for fittings, portholes, china … That’s what we call treasure.”

For recreational divers, there’s still plenty to be found, especially in the wreck-rich waters along the Eastern Seaboard. “Once you start wreck diving,” said Sommers, “a lot of other types of diving pale in comparison.”

To get in on the action, would-be treasure hunters should have the appropriate certification, be aware of laws regarding artifact removal and consider going with operators who are familiar with area wrecks and local water conditions.

Patience is also important, said Cameron Sebastian, operations manager for Coastal Scuba in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: “If you’re going to try to look for trinkets and treasures, you’re going to spend a lot of time in one spot just digging through the sand.”

Such “trinkets,” of course, won’t make you rich, but longtime wreck divers suggest there’s also value in simply experiencing the history of various vessels.

“These ships are like time capsules,” said Ted Green, owner of O.C. Diver in West Ocean City, Md. “Yes, you’re hunting for stuff, but most people have a good time whether they’re successful or not.”

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silver Ireland bottom of the ocean the Mantola Dave Sommers Dive Hatteras Coastal Scuba North Myrtle Beach