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Treasure-hunting Sanford family strikes gold

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Most treasure hunters go a lifetime and never take home a single piece of silver. But one Sanford family is now among the divers who struck gold — and a lot of it.

The treasure-hunting Schmitt family uncovered this weekend what could be $300,000 worth of gold chains and coins off the coast of Fort Pierce.

“This is like the end of a dream,” said Rick Schmitt, who owns Booty Salvage.

The discovery came about 150 yards offshore and only 15 feet down. Schmitt’s family — along with diver and friend, Dale Zeak — said they found 64 feet of thin gold chain that weighed in at more than three pounds, five gold coins and a gold ring.

Brent Brisben, co-founder of 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels LLC, the company that owns the rights to dive on the wreckage site, came up with what he called a conservative estimated value of the haul.

“To be the first person to touch an artifact in 300 years, is indescribable,” Brisben said Monday. “They were there 150 years before the Civil War. It’s truly remarkable to be able to bring that back.”

Schmitt’s company is a subcontractor of Brisben’s company.

Things haven’t typically gone so well.

“We’re world-class recyclers,” said Schmitt’s daughter, 20-year-old Hillary Schmitt, while laughing.

Like most hunters, she was used to dredging up old beer cans and broken fishing equipment on her summer excursions aboard her family’s vessel, the AARRR Booty. She has been diving with her family since she was 6.

The centuries-old loot came from a fleet of Spanish ships struck by a strong hurricane off Florida’s coast on July 30, 1715. More than 1,000 people were killed in the storm that claimed 11 of the dozen ships.

Mounds of gold, silver and other artifacts were spilled across the ocean floor. Some was recovered in the years after the storm, but many treasure hunters and historians believe that millions of dollars in silver and gold still remain, according to the Queens Jewels website.

Florida’s Treasure Coast was named after the disaster.

Brisben also struck gold this summer. One of his ships raked in 51 gold coins worth about $250,000.

The state gets the first pick of the treasure. Up to 20 percent of the rarest finds will be displayed in museums. The rest will be split equally between Brisben’s company and the Schmitts.

Even so, for the Schmitt family, the hunt is about more than just the money.

“The greatest treasure is time with the family,” said Lisa Schmitt, Rick Schmitt’s wife.

Her husband went on his first treasure dive near the Sebastian Inlet when he was a teenager in 1964.

Over the decades, 65-year-old Rick Schmitt has been on hundreds of excursions between Fort Pierce and the Sebastian Inlet. Although he and his crew have found coins and other artifacts in the past, he said this is the largest find he has ever come across.

But it wasn’t until Schmitt sold his Sanford-based pest control business in 1999 and retired, that he started his family’s diving salvage business.

In 2002, his son, Eric Schmitt, then a Lake Mary High School sophomore, had his first big find near Sebastian. He uncovered a silver platter minted in Mexico nearly 300 years ago. The platter was worth about $25,000, Brisben said.

The Schmitts used their first ship, Booty Quest, until it was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Frances in 2004. Last season, which generally lasts from Memorial Day to Labor Day, was their first time diving on their own vessel since then.

Last year, they found only a single gold coin on Labor Day.

But as Lisa Schmitt said, that is the life of a treasure hunter.

Source: Orlando Sentinel

Marine Life & Conservation

The Big Shark Pledge: Shark Trust’s new campaign kicks off with a call for support

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With the ink still drying on last week’s landmark listing of nearly 100 species of sharks on Appendix II of CITES, the Shark Trust insists that this is not the time for shark conservation to take a break. The UK-based NGO this week launches its biggest-ever concerted campaign to tackle the overfishing of oceanic sharks. They are calling on people across the world to join the call for stricter controls on high seas fisheries.

The Big Shark Pledge is at the heart of an ambitious set of campaign actions. Working to secure science-based catch limits on all sharks and rays affected by the international high seas fishing fleet. The pledge will build the largest campaigning community in shark and ray conservation history to support a raft of policy actions over the vital years ahead.

Many of our best known and much-loved sharks make their home on the high seas. In our shared ocean, these oceanic sharks and rays face a very real threat from a huge international fleet of industrial-scale fishing vessels. Research published in early 2021 confirmed that over three-quarters of oceanic sharks and rays are now at risk of extinction due to the destructive impact of overfishing. They have declined by 71% over the last 50 years.

The Shark Trust is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year and has a long history of securing positive changes for sharks, skates and rays. The Big Shark Pledge will build on the success of their NoLimits? campaign which underpinned landmark catch limits on Blue Sharks and Shortfin Mako in the North Atlantic.

While the listing of so many species on the CITES trade agreement is certainly a positive step, there remains a huge challenge in ensuring that sustainable practices are embedded in international fisheries.” says Shark Trust Director of conservation, Ali Hood. “Sharks on the high seas face extraordinary pressure from excessive fishing practices. This has to be addressed through international agreements such as those secured for Blues and makos.”

There is hope and a feeling of momentum in the shark conservation community. Just last week, in addition to the new CITES listings, the Shark Trust, working with partners in the Shark League, secured the first-ever international quota for South Atlantic Mako at ICCAT meeting in Portugal. The new campaign from the Shark Trust aims to push forwards from here, engaging a wave of support through the Big Shark Pledge to bolster policy action.

This will be a long-term international and collaborative effort. Forging a pathway to rebuild populations of high-seas sharks and rays. By putting science at the heart of shark conservation and fisheries management. And making the vital changes needed to set populations on the road to recovery.

Shark Trust CEO Paul Cox says of the Big Shark Pledge “It’s designed to give everyone who cares about the future of sharks the chance to add their voice to effective and proven conservation action. By adding their name to the Pledge, supporters will be given opportunities to apply pressure at key moments to influence change.

Click here to sign the Big Shark Pledge

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Miscellaneous Blogs

Jeff chats to… Craig Waller, Underwater Lighting Technician on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Craig Waller, Underwater Lighting Technician on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Craig is a Key Grip and Lighting Director with 10,000s of hours of Set Experience.

In Craig’s own words:

I started my career when I was in my first year of college.  I always had that creative side of the brain that needed to be followed as a career.  I thought that would be in designing engineering pieces but wasn’t happy about the idea of an office cubicle and drafting table.

I accidentally found my way onto a big commercial job for a week and decided “THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO DO”.   I made it my career after that. This is a quick list of recent and big projects in my 35 yrs of TV / Film / Photography.

Most Recently:

  • “Black Panther 2” – UW Lighting Technician / 2nd Unit Underwater Team
  • “Stranger Things” Season 4 – UW Lighting Technician / 2nd Unit Underwater Team
  • “Suicide Squad 2” – UW Gaffer / 2nd Unit Underwater Team
  • NASCAR / FOX Sports 1 – Network TV Lighting Director – 7 years / 700 races of Live BIG track TV shows
  • 10,000s of commercials / music videos / tv shows

I started diving when I was 18 years old with my OW and then AOW with PADI. I was diving with lots of friends in the late 80s and early 90s and then moved onto Kayaking. I got my daughter into diving when she turned 14 and have picked up where I left off.

I have approx 5000 dives now and spend most of my free time diving.

Here are my certs:

  • OW – AOW 1989
  • Adv Nitrox / Deco 2020
  • Cavern – Intro Cave 2021
  • CCR Tech – Fathom – 2021

You can find out more at www.craigwaller.com


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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