Straddling the line between the creepy and the sublime, shipwrecks are tragically beautiful symbols of decades (or even centuries) long past. Whether they’re sunken underwater or beached along a shore, they have a way of capturing our imagination.
Although the stories behind many shipwrecks are meticulously documented, countless others are lost to history — leaving us to speculate on the mysteries of their demise and, in some cases, ruminating on the possibilities of uncovering sunken treasure.
In the video below, we can witness the exact moment that diver Brent Brisben discovers more than $1 million in gold pieces from a 18th century Spanish fleet of ships that wrecked off the coast of Florida on July 31, 1715.
The remarkable haul included 51 gold coins, 40 feet of gold chain and an incredibly rare coin made specially for then-king of Spain, Philip V. If that doesn’t make you want to invest in diving gear and a metal detector, then who knows what will!
Of course, not all of the most compelling shipwrecks are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but that doesn’t make them any less rich.
One place with a long history of shipwrecks is northern California’s Point Reyes National Seashore, which has often been called the “place where ships go to die” due to its deadly combination of strong currents, impenetrable fogs, gusty winds and rocky shorelines.
The SS Point Reyes (pictured above, and also known as the Inverness Shipwreck or the Tomales Bay Shipwreck) is just one of many boats that have been claimed by the tumultuous, rocky shores of Point Reyes. Details surrounding this modest fishing vessel’s demise are mostly lost to history, but it remains one of the park’s most iconic landmarks.
According to the National Park Service, shipwrecks are a “respected and protected part of Point Reyes National Seashore. They are archaeological sites that provide opportunities for scientific and historical research. More importantly, these wrecks serve as memorials to the work and sacrifice of the men and women who have made their lives on the sea.”
Continue below to see more fascinating examples of shipwrecks from around the world.
La Famille Express — Turks and Caicos Islands
La Famille Express is a former Soviet cargo ship that took on a brief second life after it was bought by a private party in 1999. After being set loose by the force of Hurricane Frances in 2004, the freighter eventually ran aground in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Abandoned by its owners and standing in seven feet of water, it now serves as a popular tourist destination.
USS Kittiwake — Grand Cayman Island
While many shipwrecks are caused by extreme weather or user errors, the USS Kittiwake was intentionally sunk. After being decommissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1994, the ship was eventually sold in 2009 to the government of the Cayman Islands, which turned it into an artificial reef off the coast of Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach.
MV Plassy — Aran Islands
This 1940s-era steam trawler was carrying whiskey, yarn and stained glass when the strength of two consecutive storms pulled it atop the rocky coast of Inisheer (Inis Oírr) in the Aran Islands. Thankfully, the entire ship crew was saved, but the ship remains stuck along the shore.
SS Maheno — Fraser Island, Australia
Although it certainly doesn’t look like it now, the SS Maheno used to be a luxury cruise liner that regularly traveled between Australia and New Zealand. The ship was eventually retired in 1935, but during its final journey to a Japanese scrapyard, a strong storm threw the ship off course. It ended up on the shore of Fraser Island’s 75 Mile Beach in Queensland, Australia.
The many wrecks of the Solomon Islands
This nation, comprised of 922 islands, played a major role in World War II as Allied forces struggled to fight off the Japanese forces that were advancing into the island nations of the Southern Pacific. As a result of this harrowing naval history, hundreds of aircraft and ships litter the region’s shallow ocean floor.
Today, all the wrecks are protected as national heritage sites and are popular scuba diving destinations.
SS Ayrfield — Sydney, Australia
The Australian cargo ship SS Ayrfield was built in 1911 and lived a long, useful life before it was finally retired in 1972. Following its decommission, it was sent to be broken down in Sydney’s Homebush Bay, and all that remains is its rusty hull.
There are several ships floating in this particular bay, but what’s remarkable about the Ayrfield vessel is the vegetation that thrives within it. Fitfully nicknamed the “floating forest,” the oddly beautiful ship continues to attract spectators to this day.
Fishing boat in the Palau lagoon
Just like the Solomon Islands, Palau is a multi-island nation in the South Pacific ocean that saw a great deal of military activity during World War II — including countless shipwrecks. Not all the wrecks are war-related, though. Visible through the turquoise waters of Palau’s lagoon, this former fishing boat was claimed by the waves after a major storm more than three decades ago. It now serves as a popular snorkeling destination for tourists.
Janie Seddon — Motueka, New Zealand
Built in Scotland at the turn of the 20th century, the Janie Seddon spent most of its life as a submarine mining vessel in Wellington, New Zealand. After a brief stint as a fishing trawler in the late 1940s, it was sold to be broken down for scrap. However, the steel proved to be too hard to cut up, so the ship was towed by a bulldozer to the shores of Motueka, where it was intentionally beached.
Although the ship has become something of a icon for the city, recent concerns about its stability have led some to call for its removal.
Evangelia — Costineşti, Romania
The Evangelia, which belonged to Greek business magnate Aristotle Onassis, became stranded along the shore of Costineşti, Romania in the 1960s after bad weather lodged it between two large rocks beneath the water’s surface.
Panagiotis — Navagio Beach in Zakynthos, Greece
Situated on the Greek island of Zakynthos, Navagio Beach is only accessible by boat, but the trip is well worth it to witness the exposed cove’s stunning natural beauty, top-notch BASE jumping and, believe it or not, a rusty, old smugglers’ ship.
In 1983, the illicit ship known as Panagiotis ran aground on the cove’s stunning white sand beach while trying to transport cigarettes during a storm. It’s remained a major tourist draw ever since.
This desolate shipwreck is a popular subject for shutterbugs visiting the Ang Sila Market in Chonburi, Thailand.