Bikini Lagoon is the first UNESCO World Heritage site for the Marshall archipelago and is undisputedly ranked first on any serious wreck divers’ bucket-list. 70 years ago a nuclear blast destroyed Bikini’s reefs, yet today you’d never known it. The marine ecosystem has recovered, however the radiation level at the bunker might be still high.
Bikini Atoll is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which covers nearly 1 million square miles of idyllic emerald-green coral atolls, surrounded by the crystal-blue waters of the Pacific. A one of a kind diving paradise, as it features not only beautiful reefs, corals and wonderful marine life. Above all, it is the final resting place for some of the most significant warships in history.
Between 1946 and 1958 during the cold war between the USA and USSR, the U.S. government had 23 nuclear blasts on a mock fleet of real American and Japanese warships. Operation Crossroads was born when the Navy wanted to test the effects of nuclear warheads on ships. In 2010, UNESCO named the atoll a World Heritage Site as the symbol of the dawn of the nuclear age.
You will hardly find another place on earth where you will be able to dive such a unique collection of wrecks! Some of the most famous world’s historic battleships, cruisers, as well as the iconic USS Saratoga with its 270m (888ft.) flight deck. It took 2 bombs to take her down and she only sank relatively. The Saratoga is still loaded with bombs and even in depth it still remains explosive! White tip sharks are spotted here.
Another famous wreck here is a battleship of the Imperial Japanese Navy – HIJMS Nagato. She was the Japanese flagship during the attack on Pearl Harbor and was brought here and used as a target in the nuclear tests. You will glide over the massive propellers of this warship, its enormous guns have become a home to hundreds of colorful fish and corals.
Untouched for decades, today the 230-square-mile lagoon is known as a wildlife haven, especially for sharks. Moving to the western tip of the Bikini Atoll there is a deep gap in a reef called Shark Pass. Tides and currents run hard drawing in all kinds of marine life including hundreds of sharks. It’s one of the largest concentration of reef sharks on a planet. Grey reef sharks are small but fast, so divers definitely have to watch each others backs. After years of nuclear testing you expect this place to be dead, but the shark pass is full of life with healthy corals, schools of yellow tail fusiliers and more sharks than you can count. The reef sharks here are the biggest you have seen yet and they are very curious. Unlike big ocean going sharks, grey reefs need the reef for food and protection.
So how did the shark population recovered at Bikini Atoll, by all rights sharks are not supposed even be there now?
The research by Philippe Cousteau (J-Y Cousteau’s grandson), his wife Ashlan and the Marine Biologist Luke Tipple showed that unexpectedly the reef sharks here were able to travel in and out of the lagoon 100 miles away to Wotho Atoll, 125 miles to Rongelap Atoll, 275 miles to Likiep Atoll. These are long and dangerous journeys for small reef sharks. This research basically changes a common belief about grey reef sharks, it shows that they are capable to travel much longer distances than previously thought.
Just 10 years ago the shark population was much more poor here. The reason is simple and sad… There was a big shark over fishing at the Marshals. So in 2011 the Republic of the Marshals made a bold move, it established a world’s largest shark sanctuary banning commercial shark fishing within its waters. If nature restored Bikini after the nuclear testing, the fishing ban helped secure this success. A rebirth of a marine world here is nothing but miraculous and it won’t survive without sharks who are essential to the eco system!
If you are one of those tech diving fans, you will be happy to know that starting from May 2018 the Truk Master Liveaboard launches its new itinerary to Bikini! It offers 10 and 11 night trips from May till September. As this diving safari trip is a dream come true for many divers, the availability for 2018 is almost full! However, never give up and check 2019, there is still a chance to grab a space for a trip of a lifetime!