The historical value of a 40-carat emerald found near the wreckage of a 17th century Spanish galleon off Key West is far more important than its monetary value, says the president of a Fernandina Beach underwater research and recovery firm.
"It tells us that the ship, the Santa Margarita, and its sister ship were smuggling emeralds because they were not listed on the manifests," said Doug Pope, president of the Amelia Research and Recovery of Fernandina Beach.
The green rock was inside a queen conch shell one of Pope's part-time divers recovered from the site Sept. 4. But Pope would only identify the finder of the gem as a part-time diver and investor in the firm who works as an elementary school teacher in Nassau County.
"He wants to remain anonymous, and I have to respect that," Pop said.
Pope explained that his company, which owns a unique treasure-hunting vessel, the Polly-L, has a contract with a company founded by the late treasure hunter Mel Fisher to salvage the wreckage. Fisher and his crew found the Santa Margarita's hull timbers in 1980 and since then have collected $35 million in gold and silver bullion from the site.
"We are pretty excited about this find," said Pope, adding that the stone has been identified as a Brazilian emerald.
The stone now is in the custody of another Fisher firm for safekeeping, Pope said. The two firms split the treasure 50-50 each year after going before a federal maritime judge, who must approve their release back to the two firms.
"This find tells us there's a lot more of this on the wreck," Pope said.
It is too early to say how the emerald will be disposed of or its dollar value, Pope said.
Ed Gavron, owner of the Aqua Explorers dive shop in Fernandina Beach and a vice president of Pope's firm, said that queen conch shell in which the emerald rested on the ocean floor is on display in his shop.
Company says it tells ship's tales
By: Jessie-Lynne Kerr
Times-Union staff writer