Bikini Atoll, sometimes known as Eschscholtz Atoll between the 1800s and 1946 is a coral reef located in the remote Republic of the Marshall Islands near Micronesia. It is the UNESCO World Heritage site, also one of the most famous places in the world for wreck diving - a true diver’s bucket-list destination for any serious wreck diver.
After WWII, the United States gathered a mock naval fleet in order to test the effects of different atomic bombs on warships. Between 1946 and 1958 the US tested 67 nuclear bombs, most notably during ''Operation Crossroads''.
Liveaboard Diving in Bikini Atoll
Nowhere else can you dive such a fantastic collection of wrecks, including battleships, submarines, destroyers, and most notably the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. Over 60 years later, the nuclear ghost fleet (as these wrecks are best known), rest in crystal blue waters that have since become home to an abundance of marine life with thriving reefs and corals.
Every wreck is covered in rope and soft corals, providing habitat for massive shoals of glittering glassfish and aggregations of marbled grouper and coral trout. These fish, in turn, are prey for larger game fish such as tuna, snapper, barracuda, and trevally. Sharks abound in these waters, with numerous species including gray reef sharks, silvertip sharks, blacktip sharks, whitetip sharks, tiger sharks, and even Galapagos sharks making an appearance in the sheltered waters of the inner lagoon. On the outer side of the reef, even more gray reef and blacktip sharks can be found, as well as silky sharks, oceanic whitetips sharks, and the occasional hammerhead shark.You can also spot dolphins and eagle rays year round.
Only since 1996 has Bikini Atoll been open to diving, making this destination a one-of-a-kind combination of spectacular historic wrecks in a remote and otherwise untouched tropical paradise. All divers must hold a technical certification as most of the wrecks sit at 50m or deeper. It is recommended divers hold a TDI Advanced Nitrox & Decompression Procedures, PADI Tec 50, or other equivalent certification. The average dive depth of the wrecks in Bikini Atoll is 50 metres. Therefore Bikini Atoll is NOT SUITABLE FOR RECREATIONAL DIVERS.
Bikini Atoll is hot and humid with temperatures averaging between 27°C and 30°C, and Water temperatures range from 27°C to 29°C year round. You can dive year-round there, with the best diving season from May through to October, as these months tend to offer better conditions when the Northeast trade winds have stopped.
Typical dive sites in Bikini Atoll
The best example of only three diveable aircraft carrier wrecks in the world, the USS Saratoga sits upright in 59 to 164 feet (18 to 50m) of water and is the piece de resistance of Bikini Atoll. With a flight deck over 885 feet (270m) long, several dives are needed to explore and fully appreciate this magnificent vessel. She was armed and loaded in preparation for the nuclear tests, and so countless planes, bombs, and military equipment, as well as everyday items such as plates and bowls, tools, and general stores, are strewn throughout her vast and complex superstructure. In particular, the sick-bay, complete with dentist chair in situ, is an intriguing find.
Often the first dive of a trip to Bikini, the Prinz Eugen sits off Ebeye Island in Kwajalein Atoll and is used as a ‘check dive’. This German heavy cruiser sank in 1946 several months after the initial nuclear tests, and now rests upside down at 124 feet (38m), with one of her props breaking the surface. At 682 feet (208m) long, there are plenty of nooks and crannies, and some reasonable penetration to get divers warmed up for the main event.
The pride of the Japanese fleet, battleship HIJMS Nagato was seized by the US at the end of WWII and eventually succumbed to the second test blast at Bikini. At 725 feet (221m) long, swimming the length of her upturned keel is an exceptional experience, passing her bridge protruding 98 feet (30m) out into the sand before venturing under the bow to discover her two imposing 16-inch guns.
Another vessel lying keel-up in 177 feet (54m) of water, this battleship displays some of the worst damage from the nuclear blasts, her 12-inch armor plates concertinaed like foil around the hull’s supporting steels.
An outstanding wreck that sits upright and close to the reef she hit as she sank. While her mainmast, stack, bridge, and parts of the top superstructure were ripped off by the first test, guns and torpedo tubes remain in their mounts, and depth charges can be spotted still on their twisted tracks.
Somewhat of a novelty dive, but not to be missed if time and conditions permit, the outer wall of the atoll’s southwestern corner is teeming with sharks, providing an exciting change of scene. Hundreds of gray reef and silvertip sharks slice through the top few meters of water, alongside tuna, jacks, and massive Napoleon wrasse.
Every wreck at Bikini Atoll would be a stand-out dive if located on its own anywhere else; combined, these wrecks offer an overwhelming range of options, and divers are spoiled for choice on a two-week trip. These are the best of the rest such as : USS Anderson (destroyer), USS Pilotfish (submarine), USS Gilliam (attack transport), USS Carlisle (attack transport), USS Apogon (submarine), IJN Sakawa (light cruiser)...