National Treasure Hunter

Key West’s Shawn Cowles stars on Discovery Channel

It’s exciting when one of Key West’s own becomes a national TV star. Shawn Cowles, local treasure hunter, earned his stripes working with Mel Fisher looking for the Atocha and Santa Margarita, among other adventures around the world. It all started with spring break back in 1992, when he met Fisher at Schooner Wharf Bar looking for some good divers. With “two hundred dollars and no plan,” Cowles accepted Fisher’s offer, left his home state of Massachusetts after attending UMass, and began his own fearless adventures. Since the Atocha find, Cowles has hunted other treasures, from South America to the Pacific Ocean, and worked with The Key West Art and Historical Society. It almost wasn’t a surprise when the Discovery Channel offered him the popular series “Treasure Quest” and sent Cowles looking for the $2 billion fortune of the Sacambaya Treasure in the Andes Mountains. And as a part of the show’s promotion, Cowles has gotten to ring the closing bell of Nasdaq, certainly an adventure for a Key Wester. Only two episodes have aired so far and Cowles isn’t giving away any secrets, only that much more time went into hunting the treasure than reality TV would ever let on. Cowles’ “Treasure Quest” series could reach a viewership up to 6 million people – not bad for a guy who took a chance on Key West.

“Treasure Quest” airs on the Discovery Channel Friday nights at 9 p.m.

Watch with Treasure Hunter Shawn Cowles at Mary Ellen’s Bar this Friday, Sept. 7.

Full Name? Nickname? Shawn Cowles (“Shawn Jovi” – when younger)

How did you become a ‘Treasure Hunter’ both on and off TV? I guess I have always been a treasure hunter. As a young boy I would explore the woods of western Massachusetts, looking for artifacts and clues from past civilizations. When I was 8 years old I found a coin from 1790 under our old farm house. From that point on I had the fever (gold fever). Being a professional treasure hunter led me to becoming a consultant for a production company, which then led to being asked to do “Treasure Quest” with the Discovery Channel.

Do you have a life credo or motto? “You got to go to know.”

What’s the craziest part about having your own Discovery Channel TV show? (Have you met Bear Grylls yet? Seems like it would be a great bromance.) I think you are describing my wife’s fantasy. Bear sets the standard for adventure TV and I hope to capture a portion of his market. The craziest thing about the show is that after three months of shooting I am watching the final product for the first time with the rest of the viewers.

Did you have to do a lot research and studying for the show? What was the prep time? Yes, to be successful at treasure hunting, there are three rules I live by: thorough research, proper preparation and adequate funding. I am passionate about the subject matter; the extensive research comes easily. It takes months, if not years, of research and preparation to get any treasure expedition off the ground. There are, inevitably, false leads and wild goose chases that need to be weeded out. The story of the Sacambaya Treasure is a case of truth being stranger than fiction.


How many cameras were on you? Did you ever think, “Whoops, shouldn’t have said that…” There were at least three at all times and we wore active microphones for up to12 hours a day. Having someone listen to your every word at moments of frustration proved challenging. So far, the production team, thankfully, has chosen to leave them out.

The big question is, in the end, who gets to keep the treasure? You have to tune in to find out!

Do you have a favorite reality show? (Yours doesn’t count…lol) Now that I better understand the production that goes into creating the scenes I am interested in many of the reality shows that involve survival techniques, treasure hunting or cultural heritage.

Okay, you’re walking a donkey in the Andes Mountains, what’s your most random thought? What an ass…

Name three things you cannot live without: Family, travel, and dogs.

If invisible in Key West, what would you do? Return all the improperly discarded cigarette butts to their original owners and disconnect the scooter horns.

On what occasion would you lie? Now. “These are great questions”

Favorite guilty pleasure? Hmm, maybe ice cream or Oreos after 9 p.m.?

If you could grant Key West one wish, what would it be? A stay of execution from rising tides. I’d like my children to inherit their family home.

What’s the one mystery of the world you would love to solve? Where did the Nazis hide the “Gold Train,” believed to contain hundreds of tons of gold bars and Tsar Peter the Great’s “Amber Room.”

For lunch with one famous person, whom would you choose? As a lifetime Stones fan, I think I would have to say Mick Jagger.

Finish these sentences.

My friends and family would describe me as … the peace maker.

My autobiography would be titled … Who has the time to write an autobiography? “Ghost Writer Wanted”

I can never refuse… one of TK’s lemon drop martinis.

When I go, I will go … and then I will know.

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