Austrian nature experts are demanding a ban on diving in Lake Toplitz, which is rumored to hold one of the last great secrets of World War II --- countless crates filled with vast quantities of Nazi gold and other treasures.
In the spring of 1945, when Hitler's Third Reich was beginning to tumble down, the Nazis were looking for a perfect place to hide their most valuables -- diamonds and gold worth millions, stolen art, and also documents detailing the whereabouts of other Nazi treasures.
Legend has it that numerous crates of secret cargo were trucked through the dense mountain forest to Lake Toplitz and dumped into the 350-foot-deep lake by Nazi officers just before U.S. and allied forces closed in on them.
For many years treasure hunters from all over the world have come to this picture postcard lake high up in the Austrian Alps to dive for fortune hidden here by the Nazis during the final days of the war.
Previous dives have recovered crates full of counterfeit British bank notes and a money press apparently created by the Nazis in an attempt to crash the British economy.
Wooden boxes containing secret Nazi documents have also been found. A German scientist even discovered a previously unknown work, called "the worm of Toplitz Lake," in 1982.
However, treasure hunters believe that but the real treasures remain where the Nazis allegedly sank them -- on the bottom of the lake encrusted with a thick cover of logs and mud. Several divers have been killed over the years after becoming entangled in the branches on the bottom of the lake, but that hasn't dimmed the interest in exploring.
"Each year we're catching at least 10 divers who come here hoping to discover the Nazi fortune even though it is strictly forbidden," says Bernhard Schragl, the spokesman for Bundesforste AG, the authority in charge of the area.
Nature experts and forestry authorities are now calling for the Austrian government to impose a ban on all future dives amid concern that the many divers are threatening the lake's ecological balance.
Schragl explained, "The lake is a very sensitive ecological environment, and the many divers are simply destroying our ecosystem, making it impossible for the animals to make their home around the lake."
Forestry Authority May Allow One Exception
There might be one exception from the ban in the future, but the forestry authority is still working on details of that, according to the spokesman.
"If an interested party was willing and able to provide us with a three-dimensional map of the underwater world that proves that there is no Nazi treasure hidden whatsoever, we might give that party a last and absolutely final exception from the ban in the hope that eventually the entire area would be de-mystified."
"We would sell that license and invest the profits in ecological projects in the Lake Toplitz district."
Nature experts and the Bundesforste AG are expected to announce their "de-mystification plan" before the end of the year.