The treasures hidden on Cocos Island

The remote Costa Rican island could be the location of priceless bounty.

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Isla del Coco is perhaps best known as the inspiration behind “Jurassic Park.” But the Costa Rican island — located about 300 miles southwest of the Central American isthmus — may also be the location of long-lost treasure.

Discovered in the mid-1500s by a Spaniard, Isla del Coco became a common port-of-call for ships of all flags. If the legends are to be believed, its 24 square kilometers of dense forest cover also offered the ideal hiding spot for pirates’ loot.

And much of that bounty may still be there today.

The Devonshire Treasure

In 1818, British naval officer Bennett Graham abandoned his mission and became a pirate. He was eventually caught and executed, but not before plundering hundreds of tons of gold bullion from Spanish galleons.

Years later, a surviving member of Graham’s crew shared a remarkable tale after she was released from prison. Mary Welsh claimed the British pirate had buried 350 tons of gold on Isla del Coco and had a chart to locate it.

Welsh joined an expedition to the island to try and recover the lost gold, but the landscape had changed so much over the years that she couldn’t locate the so-called Devonshire Treasure — nor has anyone since.

The Loot of Lima

In 1820, political instability in Spain’s South American colonies prompted the Viceroy of Lima to evacuate the city’s treasures to Mexico.

A ship named Mary Dear was commissioned to transport the wealth. But while en route, captain William Thompson and his British compatriots killed the Spanish guards and changed course to Isla del Coco, where they buried the loot.

Thompson and Co. hoped to lay low and return to Isla del Coco in the future, perhaps expecting the Spaniards wouldn’t hold a grudge over $60 million in missing gold and jewels. They were wrong; the Mary Dear was soon captured and most of the crew executed.

Thompson and his first mate were spared an untimely death by promising to lead the Spaniards to the location of the buried treasure.

Unfortunately for Spain, the phrase “fool me twice, shame on me” hadn’t been invented yet. Thompson and his first mate escaped British captivity and disappeared into the jungles of Isla del Coco.

Without their help, Spain left Isla del Coco empty-handed. And in addition to the disappeared treasure, they also lost Peru, which declared its independence in 1821.

Cocos Island as treasure island

Before you buy a metal detector and set sail for Isla del Coco, we should note that treasure hunting there is now prohibited by Costa Rican law.

Before the ban, at least 300 treasure-hunting expeditions to Isla del Coco failed. One person, August Gissler, lived on the island for nearly two decades with the blessing of the Costa Rican government. He returned to New York a poor man, though he was presumably quite tan and sick of coconuts.

Even a U.S. President got involved. Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Cocos on several fishing trips and some of his crew gave treasure-hunting a shot.

To date, nothing substantial has been found on Isla del Coco — at least nothing that we know about.

Isla del Coco became a Costa Rican national park in 1978 and is also a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site. Today, the island’s only inhabitants are park rangers, and its treasure is the incredible biodiversity found in the waters surrounding it.


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