Posted on Thu, Sep. 12, 2002       Miami Herald story:PUB_DESC
Emerald found at site of shipwreck
The Associated Press

A teacher who sometimes works as a salvor found a 40.2-carat emerald inside a queen conch shell he took from the site of a wrecked Spanish treasure ship off the Keys.

The elementary schoolteacher from North Florida examined the wreck site of the 17th century galleon Santa Margarita about 30 miles off Key West on Sept. 4 while working as a part-time salvage diver for Amelia Research & Recovery of Amelia Island.

While looking for treasure, he collected several shells for his students, and took the shells back to North Florida.

As the teacher, who was not identified by the salvage company, was cleaning the shells out at his school, he said the raw emerald rolled out of the conch.

'He called our on-site guy and said, `I was cleaning this shell and this little rock fell out, but I don't want to get carried away,' '' Amelia President Doug Pope told The News-Press of Fort Myers. ``He wasn't sure what it was. He thought it might be a piece of a Heineken bottle. So he brought it over here, and we looked it over. I knew it was an emerald.''

They haven't yet put a dollar value on the emerald yet.

On Sept. 4, 1622 -- 380 years to the day the emerald was recovered -- 28 Spanish ships, including the Atocha and Santa Margarita, set sail for Spain loaded with gold, silver and copper plundered from the Americas. The fleet was driven toward the Florida Keys by a hurricane that sank the Atocha and Santa Margarita.

Mel Fisher and his crew of treasure hunters found the Santa Margarita's hull timbers in 1980 and collected $35 million in gold and silver bullion.

In 1985 Fisher hit the mother lode: more than $400 million in treasure from the Atocha. That included $40 million in raw emeralds that weren't on the ship's manifest in Spain. Explorers believed they were smuggled aboard the ship so the owners could avoid taxes.

The recent emerald find is the first from the Santa Margarita. While all the emeralds from the Atocha were from Colombia, this one originated in Brazil.

''This has changed everyone's outlook,'' Pope said. ``The Margarita's manifest tells us that there's still $60 million to $100 million down there. Now there's the possibility of this other. It's pretty neat.''