As the two men approached the beast in front of them, they knew they were in a dangerous situation. The predator was huge, measuring up at 16 feet long and tipping the scales at around 165 pounds – making it of a size rarely seen before. And, even more terrifyingly, it appeared that the intruder was hiding something in the shadows.
The beast wasn’t the type of house guest to be typically found in this part of the world, either. The pair who had discovered the interloper knew, then, that they would need expert help in removing it. But after a specialist came to the location, he, too, may have been taken back. Even with his professional experience, he had rarely seen anything quite like this before.
What’s more, the predator in question is not just deadly to humans; it’s also a recognized threat to local wildlife. Members of its species have been known to devour such creatures as possums, rabbits, bobcats and deer, for example. And, alarmingly, a critter this size has the ability to tackle prey larger than even that. On one occasion, another of its kind was spotted feasting on a 7-foot-long alligator.
The two men first encountered this lethal specimen in July 2019 beneath a home on an island in Florida’s Everglades. And as they weren’t best-equipped to deal with the intruder, they ultimately decided to call in local conservationist Ron Bergeron, whose work has earned him the moniker “Alligator Ron.” It should be known, though, that the discovery had nothing to do with that particular type of reptile.
This may come as a surprise, as the Everglades is known for its gators. Located in the south of Florida, the unique national park — the largest of its kind in the U.S. — is easily accessible from the busy urban sprawl of Miami. A 60-minute car journey is all that separates the concrete jungle from the extraordinary biodiversity of this stunning ecosystem.
The Everglades National Park covers an expansive 1.5 million acres, and airboat expeditions are offered to the area’s one million or so annual tourists. These thrilling rides dash through the swamps at nearly 60 miles per hour, giving passengers an up-close view of the fascinating wildlife and lush vegetation.
And as the biggest subtropical habitat in the country, the Everglades naturally hosts an extensive array of animals. Its mangroves and grass marshes, for example, are home to varieties of snakes and wading birds as well as alligators. For many decades, though, the wetlands here were deemed surplus to developers’ requirements, meaning a number of swamps were ultimately drained to make way for roads, farmland and property.
As a result, Florida residents may share the land with the area’s wilder inhabitants. Visitors can see these creatures, too; they may get a glimpse of manatees swimming in the waters, for instance, or bobcats and white-tailed deer roaming the pastures. Those with more patience and a keen eye may even spot members of more threatened species such as the Florida panther or the American crocodile.
Many of the in excess of 350 bird species native to the area are also incredibly rare. The large but graceful wood stork has been deemed by the U.S. government as endangered, for example. This wading bird casts an elegant silhouette and is beloved of both bird watchers and nature photographers.
Also registered on the threatened or endangered lists are the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, the Everglades snail kite and the red-cockaded woodpecker. Birds, however, are not known to be a threat to humans. So, what lurks in the Florida swamps that may pose a real danger to any person in the vicinity?
Well, although the West Indian manatee is perhaps the most distinctive Everglades resident, the placid mammal is more a gentle giant than a menace. These animals lumber softly through the water and may seek out humans both for company and a source of warmth. Manatees also mostly take their nourishment from aquatic plants.
In fact, humans are much more of a threat to the manatee than they are to us, as these sea creatures are so leisurely in their movements that they can prove vulnerable to passing dangers. For instance, they’re sometimes too slow to avoid speeding boats, which can maim or kill any animal in their paths.
And while the manatee is also on the endangered species list, arguably the rarest creature to be found in the Everglades is the Florida panther. These wild cats were once desirable trophies for hunters – meaning, unfortunately, that they were almost wiped out entirely. Indeed, conservationists believe that fewer than 100 of these animals now remain in their natural habitat.
Yet although humans may pose more of a threat to both the Florida panther and the manatee than they do to us, the same cannot be said of some of the other Everglades residents. The Florida black bear, for instance, is considered one of the most dangerous animals in the state; as it, too, is endangered, however, members of the species are seldom spotted in the national park.
Many visitors to the Everglades may also be unaware that its waters may host sharks. Yes, while these fearsome predators usually prefer the saltwater of the ocean, there are some varieties – such as lemon sharks and blacktip sharks – whose body functions can adapt to the fresh waters of Florida’s swamps. And, unfortunately, they include one of the most dangerous species around.
We’re talking about the aggressive bull shark, which can sometimes be seen patrolling the Everglades’ channels as well as the mouths of rivers and cruise coastlines in search of prey. However, while these beasts are known to ambush humans, they typically prefer to feed on much tinier animals.
Elsewhere in the Everglades’ water, certain types of fish can pose a threat to humans. Indeed, although barracudas very rarely attack people, they can sometimes be attracted by anything particularly eye-catching — such as jewelry — that swimmers may be wearing. This can occasionally provoke the fish into assuming that there is prey – like the silvery fish they feed upon – in the water. Marlins, meanwhile, are more of a danger to fishermen in the area.
Some underwater attacks may come completely by surprise, too. For instance, while the needlefish may seem relatively unassuming – typically coming in at around a foot in length and less than a pound in weight – its razor-sharp mouth is nevertheless a hazard. And although this creature is not known as a human predator, it’s still capable of causing damage.
Needlefish usually travel close to the surface of bodies of water near the coast where it’s warm. However, if they’re fleeing predators or chasing their prey, they may “take flight” for brief periods and rise to the top. Anything that gets in the needlefish’s way, then, may just feel how sharp its mouth is.
Then there’s the box jellyfish, as the ocean’s most venomous inhabitant is also known to reside in the Everglades’ channels. There are between 20 and 30 varieties of this creature, which can measure anything from under an inch to ten feet. Regardless of the box jellyfish’s size, though, it should definitely be avoided, as victims can die after experiencing the pain of its sting alone.
And perhaps the most famous Everglades predator is the alligator. The reptile can easily be confused with the crocodile, of course, although there is an easy way to tell them apart. Simply put, an alligator has a round, broad nose; the same feature on a crocodile, however, comes to a point. In addition, alligators are largely more common across the whole of Florida, while crocodiles live only in the most southerly regions of the state.
Crocodiles can be just as vicious as alligators, too, although the American variety is less aggressive than many of its counterparts from around the world. And while alligators tend to strike only when they feel threatened, they should nevertheless be avoided as well.
Yet Bergeron faced none of these animals beneath the Florida house; in fact, the creature he discovered in the basement was itself a threat to much of the Everglades’ native wildlife. It was a breed of snake called a Burmese python — and one of its kind had once been reported to have swallowed an alligator whole.
At 165 pounds and around 16 feet long, the python was the second largest that Bergeron had ever seen. In fact, from nose to tail, the snake was merely a foot away from being the longest ever measured in the state. Perhaps most terrifyingly of all, though, the female predator was protecting a nest of at least 50 eggs.
And this frightening reptile was found underneath a house in Broward County that sits four miles from Alligator Alley. Alligator Alley is an 80-mile stretch of highway that dissects the Everglades National Park between Fort Lauderdale and Naples, and as its name suggests it’s a prime location for gator spotters. The native wildlife in the area is under threat, however, from the Burmese python.
The Burmese python typically has a placid nature, and combined with the attractive designs that appear on its skin, this makes the species a favorite among snake owners. But these snakes can grow quickly and can get incredibly large. Then, when they become too much for their handlers, they can become aggressive. Attacks, then, are not unheard of, and some have been fatal.
The snake’s diet consists purely of meat, with birds and small mammals primarily featuring on the menu. As the python’s vision isn’t too good, however, it relies on heat receptors lining its jaws and chemical sensors on its tongue to close in on its prey. And killing for the Burmese python is an act of brute strength.
You see, the Burmese python is a constrictor, meaning it will wrap its body around its chosen victim after having gripped it between its teeth. Then the snake will crush the breath out of its prey until it’s dead. And as the Burmese python’s jaws are so flexible, it’s able to gobble its meal up in a single piece.
Young Burmese pythons are frequently found in trees, although slivering up trunks become more awkward after they have matured. As these creatures can come in at around 23 feet and 200 pounds, however, they can practically be the size of a tree themselves. In fact, these snakes have been described as growing to as thick as a telephone pole.
So, all of this makes the Burmese python one of the biggest — and deadliest — snakes in the world. Even more alarmingly, the snake is an expert swimmer capable of remaining underwater for half an hour before coming up for air. But while this may make the Everglades’ swampland fertile ground for the species to thrive, there’s a problem.
As you may have already assumed, Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia rather than the wetlands of the Florida Everglades. And while these reptiles were first introduced to the area over two decades ago when snake enthusiasts snapped them up, members of the species didn’t always work well as domestic animals.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some of these pets then went on to escape into the wild, while others were deliberately released. As a result, the Burmese python is now considered an invasive species without any natural predators to keep the population in check. And owing to the snake’s appetite for native mammals such as limpkins, wood storks and Key Largo woodrats, fauna in the area is now in considerable peril.
In 2019 Bergeron explained to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “The Burmese python poses a significant threat to the Florida Everglades by disrupting the natural food chain.” But the conservationist’s actions prevented an influx of this apex predator. As you’ll recall, the snake in the Broward County home was female and guarding a nest of around 50 eggs.
And, worryingly, a number of the eggs were actually cracking open as Bergeron surveyed the nest site. Fortunately, though, the specialist was able to relocate both these and the snake guarding them. “With good fortune, we were able to find a large female and remove her and an entire nest of up to 50 baby snakes, which would have continued killing off our precious habitat,” Bergeron continued to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. In fact, the hunting of Burmese pythons in the Everglades is actively encouraged.
No license is required to hunt Burmese pythons, nor are there are no restrictions on when they may be pursued. Some have even turned the tracking of these snakes into a sport, with the annual Python Challenge encouraging members of the public to capture as many of the slithery pests as possible.
Local wildlife trapper Mike Kimmel – a self-avowed “python cowboy” – has proved himself particularly accomplished at ridding the area of the snakes, having captured eight of the invasive species during the 2020 Python Challenge. Yet while this total accounts for a tenth of the number of snakes hunted down in the competition that year, it’s made scarcely a dent in a population estimated to be in the tens of thousands in the Everglades.
Kimmel found the going hard, too. In a January 2020 Instagram post, he wrote, “It was not an easy win, that’s for sure. I ran into all kinds of obstacles. I hunted ten days straight, covering thousands of miles of levees and woods [and] sleeping in the swamp when not hunting. [I] kept my nose to the grindstone, and I can proudly say I gave it my all.” That said, the incentive to track down these snakes can be huge.
Indeed, those who hunt for a living can expect a return of a few hundred dollars in government payouts for every python captured. Then, once the snakes are euthanized, they can be used in other ways. For instance, Kimmel gives snake meat to the wild hogs on his property. Speaking of his spoils to The Guardian, the trapper added, “It’s good money; a large snake can be worth about $1,000 to me.”
The Burmese python’s skin can also be used to manufacture luxury goods such as purses, boots and wallets. Typically, these reptiles have tan-colored outsides that feature dark patchwork similar to that of a giraffe. And while these markings are non-uniform, they nevertheless appear to slot together – much like elements of a jigsaw.
So, while the Python Challenge may not be completely ridding the Everglades and its surroundings of these creatures, it may help. After all, conservationists have spent years attempting to gain control over the python population in Florida – even going so far as to employ chanting snake charmers from India. And as research has shown that a rise in python numbers has coincided with a significant decline in wildlife native to the Everglades, winning the battle against the snakes may be crucial in keeping this part of the state at its best.
Elsewhere in Florida, another two men made an altogether less frightening discovery. While walking along the sands, treasure hunters Jonah Martinez and Cole Smith were scanning the area – hoping that they would turn up something special. Then the duo hit pay dirt…
Waves crash onto the south Florida coastline, but the motion of the ocean won’t stop Martinez and Smith. Instead, the intrepid pair hover their metal detectors over the beach, the early morning air whipping past them as they scan. Then they hear it: the beeping from their devices. They’ve found something… Yet, little did they know at the time, the metal detectorists had uncovered a trove of relics that could potentially pad their bank accounts with thousands of dollars.
Yes, it’s safe to say that the morning proved particularly fruitful for Martinez and Smith. And while Martinez had spent nearly a quarter-century searching for treasure in southern Florida, he’d never come across a haul quite like this. For this time, he didn’t just find one piece of treasure. In fact, he’d uncovered a boatload.
But Martinez is perhaps not your usual treasure hunter. After all, he says he has different plans for the many valuables he discovers while waving his metal detector over sections of the Florida coastline. Still, this particular haul shed light on a literal treasure trove enshrouded by the crashing waves and seas just beyond the state’s famous beaches.
Jonah Martinez is only a treasure hunter in his spare time, mind you. By way of employment, he collaborates with his clients to bring their custom car and motorcycle visions to life. And his friend Cole Smith spends his working hours as a scuba diving instructor. But both men share an adventurous out-of-work hobby: they search for treasure along the Florida coastline with the help of metal detectors.
Martinez, for one, had put nearly a quarter-century into his hobby by the spring of 2020. And during his time treasure hunting, he had found many notable relics of the past. In fact, he has built up a collection that includes pieces of porcelain, daggers, belt buckles, flatware, housewares and even clothes once worn by noblemen.
Some of Martinez’s past finds had made headlines, too. For instance, in 2015 he had joined a crew of fellow treasure hunters who, as usual, explored a Floridian stretch of the Atlantic coastline. This time, though, the group happened upon a hoard of 300 gold coins, which had a value of $4.5 million at the time of their discovery.
Afterward, Martinez had spoken at a press conference about the crew’s incredible discovery. According to newspaper Florida Today, he re-told the story of the expedition with misty eyes, explaining that he had been the one to choose their fruitful treasure-hunting location. He said, “To find something like that, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”
At the same press conference – attended by approximately 100 people – Martinez described himself and his fellow treasure hunters as “hard-core metal detectorists.” He also reiterated that their missions were more about the adventure than the relics they found. He said, “The real treasure is the experience that we all share every summer. The stories, they’ll last forever.”
And that statement isn’t just lip service, either. Martinez usually makes a point of not selling the treasure he found; he doesn’t partake in his hobby for a profit. Instead, he says, he keeps most of the goods for his collection. Otherwise, he shares his finds with others or donates them to museums.
The same went for Martinez’s later treasure-hunting jaunts, too. In summer 2017, for instance, he spoke to website TCPalm about that year’s exploits, which had yielded comparatively meager returns. The weather plays a huge role in helping the ocean’s hidden relics wash ashore, and Martinez and his fellow searchers had little luck on that front.
At that time, Martinez admitted, “It has been one of the worst summers weather-wise that we’ve ever experienced.” However, the metal-detector-toting explorer knew the tide would turn – literally and figuratively. He said, “We’re getting through it day by day, and we’re working in an area where we found items before, so we’re optimistic.”
The change Martinez sought would come in 2020. So this time he and his friend Smith took their metal detectors and headed to Wabasso Beach, where cerulean waters hide countless age-old relics of the past. In fact, this area makes up part of Florida’s beachside border that’s known as the Treasure Coast.
The Treasure Coast spans across four Floridian counties: St Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach and Indian River, the last of which includes Wabasso Beach. And although this particular stretch of coastline has long been inhabited, it took decades for it to earn its nickname. John J. Schumann Jr. and Harry J. Schultz, who worked for the Vero Beach Press Journal newspaper, coined the name in 1961.
And they had good reason for naming it the Treasure Coast in that year. In 1961, you see, people began to find age-old riches hidden in the waters just off of these Floridian counties. Soon enough, experts knew that these relics had arrived as a result of an ill-fated journey by the Spanish in the early 18th century.
Specifically, the Spanish had packed up a dozen ships in Havana, Cuba, with all of their New World riches. So they filled the vessels with gold, silver and sparkling jewels valued at 14 million pesos and sent them off to their home country, thousands of miles away.
The entire fleet would never make it to its destination, though. The ships set sail on July 24, 1715, and, within a week, the sailors faced a nightmare at sea: a horrific hurricane that wrecked their vessels. Only one boat chartered by a French crew made it through the storm. The rest of the Spanish ships succumbed to the raging waters.
The 11 sunken ships took 700 sailors with them as well as all 14 million pesos worth of jewels and precious metals. The ill-fated journey is considered one of history’s worst disasters at sea. And evidence of it lingers along the Florida coastline, where pieces of the ships still remain.
The ships seemed to have sunk near modern-day Vero Beach, which sits within Indian River County. And yet remnants of the vessels have turned up along a 40-mile range of coastline, from Fort Pierce in St. Lucie County, all the way down to Cape Canaveral in Brevard County – which isn’t even part of the self-styled Treasure Coast.
Of course, the name “Treasure Coast” has more to do with the riches themselves than the shards of shipwrecks that have been found since. It seems that the wrecks’ survivors had first tried to recover some of the lost treasure but to no avail. Then, perhaps surprisingly, these precious goods sat largely forgotten on the seafloor for two and a half centuries before they started to re-emerge.
What about the French crew who survived the storm? Well, that single ship didn’t sink on the voyage from Havana got lucky. Its crew realized before it was too late that the seas would be treacherous that day. So they changed directions and washed ashore in Florida, where they set up camp and tried their best to survive the storm.
Then the admiral in charge, Don Francisco Salmon, sent some of his sailors inland in search of people to help them. Others went back out to sea to try and pluck the precious metals and jewels that the other ships had lost at sea, too. But the crew couldn’t manage it: the churning waters threatened to engulf them.
They weren’t the only ones to fail to find the treasure, either. When the Spanish fleet sank, you see, it was a big news story. And ships from all over descended on the area as crews heard the stories of a massive fortune hidden in Atlantic waters. However, no one ever discovered it, and it seems that the rumor died down as time went on.
It would take another major storm for some of the Treasure Coast’s secrets to resurface, in fact. It all started in the 1950s, when hurricane winds whipped sand from the dunes lining the Sebastian Inlet. And as the sands shifted, they revealed hidden pieces of a shipwreck, which clued people into the fact that there might be more relics hidden in the area.
A local named Kip Wagner then found an actual piece of treasure from one of the sunken ships. In fact, he uncovered a piece of eight – a silver coin also known as a Spanish dollar or peso. The first pieces of eight were minted at the end of the 15th century, and the currency remained in use in some parts of Asia and North America until the 19th century.
It soon became clear that Wagner’s piece of eight had come from the sunken ships. He then uncovered other treasures as well as relics of the crew that had survived the hurricane. Wagner subsequently founded a group known as the Real Eight Company, which sought out more of the treasures hidden along this stretch of Florida’s coastline.
And that’s where Schumann and Schultz came in. These two members of the press decided to rebrand their local beaches as the Treasure Coast. It made sense, considering more and more treasure hunters had flocked to the area in the hope that they, too, could uncover the riches left to sink along with the 11 Spanish ships.
Calling the area Treasure Coast had even more of an impact, too. Soon enough, the beaches became a hotspot for scuba divers and beachcombers who wanted their chance to find some of the treasure. It continues to be a summer destination for adventurers in search of riches as well.
In Martinez and Smith’s case, they were lucky: both men called Florida their home, which made it easier for them to search for treasure in and out of the tourist season. According to their Facebook profiles, the former lives in Port Saint Lucie, while his scuba-diving teacher friend has his base in Fort Lauderdale.
Martinez and Smith relied on metal detectors to point them to any treasure that might be lingering along the coast on February 28, 2020 – the day of their fateful expedition. The pair traversed Wabasso Beach in the early morning, undeterred by chilly temperatures or the unending crashing of waves that flooded their path.
As the pair swept, the chirruping sounds of their devices alerted the men to potential finds. Martinez told TV channel CBS12, “Our metal detectors were catching target after target.” The men then plucked each discovery from obscurity, eventually finding they had found nearly two dozen relics of the famous Treasure Coast shipwreck.
Martinez confirmed to the news outlet, “We found 22 beautiful Spanish coins from the 1715 treasure shipwreck that were all hammer-struck.” With an evaluative method of his own, Smith seemed to verify the age-old currency’s time spent underwater. He said, “You can lick it and taste the saltwater.”
Better yet, the coins came with a pretty hefty resale price tag. Smith and Martinez could have likely raked in between $5,000 and $6,000 for the 22 coins they found, in fact. However, Martinez reiterated that neither he nor his partner-in-discovery had adopted their hobby for the money.
If he wanted, though, he could profit from finding the more-than-300-year-old currency, as he had discovered the coins on a public beach. Instead, Martinez claimed, “This is our history out here. We are not trying to profit out here, we are just collecting pieces of history. That’s cool if you ask me.”
Florida law stipulates that treasure hunters at sea have to have a permit before they can set off on the hunt for relics hidden in the state-owned coastal area. So anything found on state property tends to get split profit-wise between Florida and the treasure hunters. When Martinez and company found $4.5 million worth of treasure in 2015, for instance, the state could keep up to 20 percent of the proceeds from their haul.
In the 2020 case, though, Martinez and Smith got lucky. Although treasure in coastal waters falls under state jurisdiction, once those items wash up on the beaches – as they had in this case – they become part of the public domain. So the pair didn’t need any paperwork filed before their morning metal-detecting session – and none of their finds belong to the state.
Still, as previously mentioned, those beachcombing sessions were apparently what it was all about for Martinez – not the price tag on the coins, nor who gets what when the search is over. To that end, he keeps working to improve his skills so he can find even more of what the Florida coast has to offer. He told USA Today, “I know how to read the beach, and I’m always trying to increase my odds of finding something.”
On top of that, Martinez promised to leave the 22 coins as they were when he found them; he wouldn’t polish or otherwise try to improve their appearance. It isn’t about aesthetics for him, after all. He told TCPalm, “It’s a passion. It’s the thrill of the hunt that I love.”
Martinez also knew that his find, along with his past and future missions to uncover his local beaches’ hidden artifacts, would draw more attention to the area and its secrets. He told the New York Post, “Not everyone knows why it’s called the Treasure Coast. This is why.”
And, for the time being, Martinez hopes to be the one behind the headline-grabbing finds along Florida’s Treasure Coast. He told CBS12, “You don’t know what you’re going to find. We love to be the guys who find treasure that [was] lost at sea more than 300 years ago.”
According to Martinez’s Facebook profile, he has plans to share some of his incredible finds with friends and fellow users of the social media site. He wrote about his coins, “It’s time to let go of my little [buddies]. Friends have been asking me for a while now about buying some nice coins.” So the treasure hunter has put a few on the market, after all, to share the history – and, quite literally, the wealth.