The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is a 501 (c) (3) accredited, not-for-profit organization existing to research, interpret, and exhibit the maritime history of Florida and the Caribbean in ways that increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, and stimulate inquiry.

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Archaeology & Research​/ The Santa Clara

The Santa Clara, an early Spanish galleon, sunk in 1564

​The site was discovered in July of 1991 by the Florida-based marine salvage corporation St. John's Expeditions, during their survey of an area leased to them by the Bahamian government for the right to explore the remains of sunken ships. When the wreck was discovered, archaeologists and historians familiar with colonial-era ships and shipping were consulted for an assessment of the wreck, including a representative from the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society (MFMHS). All concluded that the site dated from the sixteenth century and could work toward a better understanding of the early colonization of the Americas. In December of 1991, after exploring a variety of options for their discovery and consulting with the government of The Bahamas, St. John's Expeditions made the decision to ally with the MFMHS to conduct an archaeological examination of the wreck. Under the agreement, all materials from the site that are apportioned to St. John's Expeditions by The Bahamas will be housed at the Key West facility as a permanent collection open to both the public and interested researchers. This unique alliance has allowed the wreck to pass from the private realm to the public.

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The wreck of the Spanish galleon Santa Clara (aka the St. John's Bahamas wreck) is a key archaeological site for understanding how Europeans voyaged to and from the early American colonies. The Santa Clara met its fate in 5 meters of water on the southwestern edge of the Little Bahama Bank, approximately 20 miles north-northwest of West End, Grand Bahama Island. This area is located along the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream current as it passes between Florida and the Bahamas Islands. Portions of the ship itself have been found in association with a wealth of artifacts that reflect how the ship functioned and the lifestyles of those on board. It is one of the few sixteenth-century New World shipwrecks to be identified.

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Did you know that the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is the only fully accredited museum in the Florida Keys? That means we’re more than just an exciting adventure story. We’re also a nationally recognized research and archaeology institution.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum - Galleon "Atocha"
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200 Greene Street | Key West, Florida 33040