Treasure Hunting Laws in Florida

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If you are planning to look for some of the buried pirate treasure in Florida, you need to learn about treasure hunting laws first so you don’t get into trouble.

Some treasure hunters have actually been jailed and fined for not abiding by the laws regarding treasure hunting so it’s important to follow them.

The following is an overview of treasure hunting laws in Florida:

Federal Treasure Hunting Laws:

The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 authorizes the creation of marine protected areas in order to protect natural and historical resources such as shipwrecks. Treasure hunting on shipwrecks and in the natural settings surrounding them in an established marine sanctuary is prohibited by this law.

Famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher was actually fined $589,311 in 1987 for violating this law when he damaged sea grass while searching without a permit in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Fisher was also ordered to surrender the historical artifacts he recovered during the search.

The blue waters of the Florida Keys

The Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988 protects historic shipwrecks in U.S. waters by transferring the title to the wreck to the U.S. state or territory it lies in.

This means any historic shipwreck found in Florida waters is officially the property of the state of Florida. It also means that if a shipwreck is located on federal land it is the property of the federal government.

Florida Treasure Hunting Laws:

The Florida Historical Resources Act prohibits the excavation or removal of artifacts from underwater archaeological sites, including shipwrecks, on state owned land.

Permission may be granted to conduct excavations on underwater archaeological sites on state-owned submerged lands for:

  • Exploration and salvage contracts for individuals or companies recovering abandoned materials on state-owned submerged lands under the supervision of the state.
  • Archaeological research permits for scientific and educational institutions.

Federal Metal Detecting Laws:

Metal detecting is prohibited on federal lands, including Florida beaches that are defined as national parks, national monuments or national seashores.

Florida Metal Detecting Laws:

Metal detecting is prohibited in all state parks except at coastal state parks between the water line and the toe of the dune.

The exception is that metal detecting is not allowed at archaeological sites within this zone. Metal detecting is also not allowed on the actual dunes.

A treasure hunter metal detecting on a beach

Although some inland state parks have a “beach” that is a part of a lake, spring or river, this does not qualify as a coastal state park and you therefore are not allowed to metal detect there. Check the Florida State Park’s website for a full list of coastal state parks.

Objects with historic association (anything over 50 years old) are not allowed to be kept by park visitors, even if they were recovered in an area of the state park that allows metal detectors (“Activity Questions”).

This is because any object over 50 years old is considered an archaeological artifact and officially belongs to the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, according to the Florida Historical Resources Act.

City/County Metal Detecting Laws in Florida:

Some cities and counties require permits for metal detecting. Check with your city or county officials to see if a permit is required to metal detect on city and/or county property.

Cities and counties also sometimes have their own rules and regulations for metal detecting on its property so check with your local officials for details.

Sources:
Ella, Ricardo. “Florida Treasure Hunters Fined.” Archaeology Magazine, archive.archaeology.org/9711/newsbriefs/florida.html
Kavin, Kim. “Diving for Sunken Treasure? Why You May Not Be Able to Keep (or Sell) What You Find.” Robb Report, robbreport.com/motors/marine/maritime-laws-sunken-treasure-1234608407/
Activity Questions.” Florida State Parks, floridastateparks.org/taxonomy/term/86?page=1
Find a Park.” Florida State Parks, floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails?parks%5B0%5D=amenities%3A282
Laws.” Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State, dos.myflorida.com/historical/archaeology/underwater/laws/
State Submerged Resources Laws.” NPS.gov, nps.gov/archeology/sites/statesubmerged/florida.htm
Underwater Archaeology.” Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State, dos.myflorida.com/historical/archaeology/underwater/faq/
Metal Detecting Passes.” Marion County Parks and Recreation, parks.marionfl.org/programs-permits/park-passes/metal-detecting-passes
Chapter 267 Historical Resources.” The Florida Senate, flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2012/Chapter267/All