FREDERICK DOUGLAS BEACH, FL (NBC) - After decades of hunting for treasure along Florida's coasts, a woman and her elderly mother have made the find of a lifetime.
Bonnie Schubert and her 87-year old mother Jo were diving near Frederick Douglass Beach when they made the discovery: a 22-carat solid gold bird, a relic which they believe dates back to the lost Spanish Fleet of 1715.
"The first thing that came into focus was the head of the bird and the wing ... And it was something I never imagined," Bonnie Schubert recalled.
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," said Brent Brisbane, a principal with 1715 Fleet-Queen's Jewels, LLC, the corporation that holds the rights to treasure hunting in the region. "It's not something we could have ever predicted."
Brisbane had the item appraised by Dubose and Sons Jewelers in Vero Beach.
"They came back with an appraisal of $885,000," he said.
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 said Bonnie and Jo's golden bird is clearly the biggest prize of all.
"Bonnie and Jo are amazing," he said. "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."
Brisbane asked a local historian to study the relic and learned it is a "Pelican in her Piety," which is 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," Bonnie Schubert said.
The golden bird is missing a wing, however, and no one knows what it once held in its center, which is now a small, square opening.
For now, dividing the spoils could tricky. As contractors, Bonnie and Jo typically get half of what they find. Brisbane, who holds the rights to treasure hunting in region, gives 20 percent to the state of Florida.
But if the state decides it wants the golden bird, then Brisbane said there may be some "treasure trading" to make it all come out right.
Whatever happens, the Schuberts were excited about the find, because they said 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," Bonnie Schubert said.