The discovery of more than $4.5 million in gold coins gave the 300th anniversary of a major maritime disaster a unique twist. On July 30, 1715, the Spanish lost all 11 ships of a fleet traveling from Havana to Spain. More than a thousand people died in the tragedy, caused by a hurricane.

Move forward three centuries and find Bret Brisben and the crew of the S/V Capitana discovering the gold carried by the fleet resting on the ocean bottom off Vero Beach, Florida. According to reports, the finding of 350 gold coins included at least nine Royals, each valued at more than $300,000 each. These special gold pieces were struck in the early 1700s to honor Phillip V, the king of Spain. Historians note that the wrecked ships were carrying at least $400 million in jewels and gold when they went down.

What made this find so incredible was, according to Brisben, “People freak out that we’re literally 10-15 feet off the beach in 2-3 feet of water.” Brisben is a known treasure hunter, with several previous finds. In fact, one of his subcontractors made a $1 million find of 52 gold coins in June of this year. That find, however, was at more traditional depths of 150 feet, also off the coast in Florida.

What Happens to the Gold?

The find was made in the name of the Queen Jewels LLC, the company that has been granted exclusive salvage rights to the long-remembered 1715 fleet tragedy. Brisben and his crew have been searching for the remains of the wrecks for six years. The current finds were made during the annual treasure-hunting season of May through September.

Under the deal set up for the hunt, only Brisben’s company can enter the waters to search for the lost treasure. According to the operating agreement, the state of Florida will keep 20 percent of both finds and any subsequent recoveries. The crew will then split up the remaining 80 percent under their private agreement.

Brisben has become something of a celebrity over the find, appearing on numerous local shows and the CBS This Morning program. He indicates his firm will continue to search for other pieces of the lost gold and other valuables, notably gold and silver coins.