Bikini, Marshall Islands

   - darkometer rating:  10 -
BikiniAn atoll of about 20 islands, the largest itself called Bikini, which is part of the Marshall Islands in Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean. Apart from having lent its name to the two-piece swimming costume, the name is associated mainly with the nuclear testing programme that the USA conducted here. Some of the most spectacular images of nuclear explosions were taken here in this tropical island (ex-)paradise.

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations


More background info: The visually most spectacular test was conducted under the code name Operation Crossroads as early as 1946 – the first test after Trinity and the two times atomic bombs were actually used in WWII over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devices were named "Able" and "Baker". The latter was unique in that it was the first device detonated underwater.
The images of entirely new phenomena such as the brief condensation cloud (initially a bubble, then a ring of mist, before dispersing) and the 2 million ton water column, are probably the most enduring pictures of the atomic age. The purpose of Crossroads was to test the damage that atomic bombs would have on naval ships. So a whole fleet of obsolete or captured enemy ships was assembled at the target area. The damage inflicted by "Baker" was indeed massive and sank a good number of vessels, including the Arkansas battleship and the Saratoga aircraft carrier.
The other most notable test was the "Castle Bravo" test of a hydrogen bomb – the largest device ever tested by the USA. Its yield of 15 megatons was far higher than was expected and its fallout contaminated a large area, including outlying islands to which Bikini inhabitants had been evacuated. A Japanese fishing vessel was also affected and its crew exposed to high levels of radioactivity, despite it having been in waters outside of the US-declared "danger zone" (the US later blamed the weather, or the erroneous weather forecasts). The crew of the Japanese fishing boat soon developed serious radiation sickness, of which one crew member, Aikichi Kuboyama, died a few months later – the first fatality caused by a hydrogen bomb! Needless to say, the incident caused widespread outrage internationally, and further fuelled the anti-nuclear movement in Japan.  
Bikini (and neighbouring atolls) remain a complicated legal matter of much controversy. The indigenous islanders claim that their health had been deliberately put at risk and they've never been adequately compensated. Not to mention the loss of their native land (small as it may have been). Attempts at cleaning Bikini up for resettlement had to be abandoned. To this day, the islands remain uninhabitable and it is not clear for how much longer this will be the case. Plants growing on the island still accumulate dangerous levels of radioactive caesium.
"Castle Bravo" (as well as the later "Union" test) left quite visible remnants too, namely enormous craters on the seabed (about a mile wide).
Marine life was, obviously enough, more or less wiped out by the testing, but has returned in surprising abundance in many places (including the wrecks). Some areas, however, are still a lifeless underwater moonscape.  
What there is (was) to see: You'd probably think that Bikini can't possibly be further off any tourist map. But it has attracted some tourism! In fact, it is considered to offer the best shipwreck diving in the world. According to a 1996 IAEA report, it is actually quite safe to walk on the islands (as long as you don’t touch any of the fruit or veg growing there!), and bases for diving trips could be set up, though naturally there is no tourism infrastructure as such. Accommodation would have to be basic, of course. Everything needs to be supplied from neighbouring islands. Dives from a special boat are the only activity. (There are no other visitable sites anyway).
Especially the wreck of the "Saratoga" is fabled amongst divers of that ilk. It's huge – longer that the Titanic (when you count the flight deck) and the world's only diveable aircraft carrier. [Update: I've been informed that there are in fact two more divable aircraft carriers: the USS Oriskany off Florida, deliberately sunk as an artificial reef in 2006, and the HMS Hermes off the east coast of Sri Lanka, which has become accessible since the Civil War ended in 2009.] The "Arkansas" is another dramatic wreck. It lies upside dow, because battleships are top-heavy –  it was in any case turned over by the blast of the "Baker" bomb, having been the closest to the detonation.
There are several other wrecks, e.g. the Japanese battleship "Nagato" (the command ship of the Pearl Harbor attack), and others which are smaller but still sizeable enough. The lagoon of the atoll where the wrecks lie is comparably shallow but it can get to a challenging depth of 180 feet (55m). There may also have been dives to the underwater moonscapes left by the bombs and to the "Castle Bravo" crater in the seabed.
After organized diving tours were suspended for a while, they now seem to be back on offer (2012). However, no land-based operations are currently run, only tours operated from boats on a "liveaboard" basis, so you may not be able to set foot on the island of Bikini itself.
Location: remote. Very remote! On the eastern edge of Micronesia, thousands of miles from any continental land mass. It is in the north-western part of the Marshall Islands group.
Google maps locator: [11.6981,165.2731]
Access and costs: near impossible except for divers; very expensive.
Details: Organized diving trips are again available. However, it requires determination, preparation and lots of money: ca. 5000 USD for 12/13 days, plus all the costs for flights to and accommodation in Kwajalein (the main gateway to the Marshall Islands).
Last but not least: you have to have the prerequisite diving skills. Since I lack the latter, I haven't ever seriously looked into going to Bikini (although the allure is immense!). But if you are a diver, then do check availabilities on – start planning well ahead of time!
If you're like me, i.e. are not a diver, you can forget it.
If you have the funds, resources (and skills!), you can even apply for a permit to go with your own boat – but strict rules and requirements apply. The boat must be fully self-sufficient, be equipped with international communications gear, and everything needed for diving and living on board (no supplies are available at Bikini). Also: you have to take along a dive guide and at least one local government representative (at your own expense) who has to make sure no artefacts are removed from the wrecks.
Time required: diving tour schedules last about 12-14 days in total – plus the time for getting there (which alone can take days). Shorter trips do not seem to be available any longer.
An independent expedition, if allowed at all, would naturally require considerably more time, for preparation alone, but also for getting there, given the extremely remote location.
Combinations with other dark destinations: none nearby, unless you count the rest of the atoll, parts of which were affected by the legacy of nuclear testing here too. Further away, a historically related, and naturally somewhat similar Pacific island is Tinian, from where the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombers took of in 1945.
Combinations with other non-dark destinations: unless the rest of the Marshall Islands appeal, you'd have to cast your net wider, much wider – cf. Pacific.
NOTE: the classic photo at the top is in the public domain; it was downloaded from:

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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