FT. PIERCE, Fla. - Bonnie Schubert and her 87-year old mother have hunted treasure for decades.
Most days they wind up digging dozens of holes, diving in the murky water, and coming up with a fishing lure or a beer can.
"I spent a whole season and only came up with a musket ball," says Bonnie.
But one day this August, the Schuberts were diving near Frederick Douglass Beach in Ft. Pierce when they made the find of their lives.
"The first thing that came into focus was the head of the bird and the wing…and it was something I never imagined...just didn’t expect at all.." recalls Bonnie.
They discovered a 22-carat solid gold bird, a relic which they believe dates back to the lost Spanish Fleet of 1715.
The fleet of Spanish galleons wrecked near Ft. Pierce, littering the ocean floor with what divers believe to be millions of dollars in gold and jewels.
"It’s truly been amazing. It’s not something we could have ever predicted," said Brent Brisabane, a principal with 1715 Fleet-Queen's Jewels, LLC, the corporation that holds the rights to treasure hunting in the region.
Brisbane asked a local historian to study the relic and learned it is a "Pelican in her Piety," a symbol of Christ.
"It’s a symbol of the sacrifice of Christ that the mother pelican would beat her breast and draw blood when times are bad," said Bonnie Schubert.
The golden bird is missing a wing and no one knows what it once held in its center, which is now a small square opening. Brisbane had the item appraised by Dubose and Sons Jewelers in Vero Beach.
"They came back with an appraisal of $885,000," said Brisbane.
Brisbane's teams have had a bountiful summer, uncovering dozens of gold and silver coins and a bronze canon from the wreck sites, but he says Bonnie and Jo’s golden bird is clearly the biggest prize of all.
"Bonnie and Jo are amazing. This is a male-dominated industry and to have these two ladies come up with what is truly one of the top 5 artifacts ever found from the 1715 fleet is just incredible," he said.
Dividing the spoils could be the tricky part. As contractors, Bonnie and Jo typically get half of what they find. Brisbane, who holds the rights to treasure hunting in region, gives 20% to the state of Florida. If the state decides it wants the golden bird, then Brisbane says there may be some "treasure trading" to make it all come out right.
©2007 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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