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Winning! Family finds 300-year-old sunken treasure

July 31, 2014 at 9:44 AM ET

A Florida family of avid treasure hunters is celebrating after finding gold chains, rings and a rare religious artifact at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Rick, Eric, Lisa, Hillary and Lindsay Schmitt made the discovery last month while scavenging for treasure amid a fleet of Spanish ships ripped apart by a hurricane off of Florida’s east coast in 1715. More than 1,000 people died when the ships sank, but the sunken treasure has remained intact for three centuries.

Video: NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez provides a peek into the life of a family of professional salvage divers, now in their 17th year in business, and some of the remarkable treasures they discover.

“You just never stop being excited,” Rick Schmitt told NBC News’ Gabe Gutierrez of his family’s love of hunting for treasure. “It’s not just the gold — it’s the whole history of the whole thing.”

The family’s latest finds from the 1715 wreckage include a gold filigree necklace considered sacred to Spanish priests. A team of Spanish historians fit the necklace together with another artifact recovered 25 years ago to form a “pyx,” an accessory worn on a chain and used to carry the communion host, Reuters reported.

The latest finds are expected to be worth more than $100,000. They come on the heels of the Schmitt’s discoveries from the wreckage last year: 64 feet of gold chains and rare gold coins valued at more than $300,000.

The family of professional salvagers is required to share their findings with 1715 Fleet — Queens Jewels, the company that owns the salvage rights to this part of the ocean, and to the state of Florida for museums. But the Schmitts say their efforts are about much more than money.

“I do it for the love, I do it for the accomplishment of finding what other people haven’t found,” Rick Schmitt told NBC News. “It feels wonderful to do it with the family. We’re doing it together.”

Lisa Schmitt agreed.

“We’ve always felt as though it was the journey, not the destination,” she said. “When I add up the days of my life that I am happiest — you know, other than your wedding and your kids being born — I’d say the rest of them are out here on the water.”

Lindsay Schmitt mentioned yet another factor that motivates her family to keep searching: “Some of us are born with a little pirate in our blood.”

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