Diving the Marshall Islands
23 January 2020
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is notorious for the nuclear testing on its Bikini Atoll. Bikini's name derived not from the bathing suit, but from the Marshallese language. It means surface of coconuts. Comprised of a ring of little islands, in 1946 Bikini had 167 inhabitants. The military governor of the Marshall Islands told them that their land was needed for the good of mankind. They were moved, several times, to different islands. None of which gave them the environment to be self-sustaining. They were briefly moved back to Bikini but the high radiation there resulted in miscarriages and genetic abnormalities in the children. In 1975 they sued the U.S, were awarded $75 million in damages and the creation of a $90 million trust fund to pay for medical expenses, cleanup and to give each islander about $550 per year.
Why Dive the Marshall Islands?
The country is also home to an enormous shark sanctuary covering 768,547 square miles. In conjunction with the shark sanctuary in next-door Micronesia this is part of the largest shark sanctuary in the world spanning 2.5 million square miles. It prohibits commercial fishing for sharks; retention of sharks caught as bycatch; and the trade, possession, and sale of shark products.1
When is the best time to dive here?
The diving season runs from May to October. You can dive year round but the cyclone season is normally between November and April. Sea temperatures never fall below 27oC and can reach 30oC September to November.
How to get to the Marshall Islands and Bikini Atoll
The Marshall Islands comprise 29 atolls and five isolated islands in the North Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. They are remote; very remote. You may need a visa to visit but a 30-day visit visa is available on arrival at the international airport on Majuro atoll. If you're transiting a US territory to reach the Marshall Islands you may need to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) from the US Government.
To reach Bikini Atoll you may have to fly via the Kwajelein US military base. Flights there go from Honolulu in Hawaii. From Kwajelein it is a day's sale to get to Bikini. You need to be an experienced diver for Bikini Atoll.
Where to Dive?
In addition to Bikini Atoll, there are excellent dive sites are around the capital, Majuro. Visibility is tremendous. Rongelap Atoll has relatively recently reopened to divers to enjoy amazing drop-offs and reefs. The coral is very good but is affected by global warming with some bleaching. You can dive by liveaboard boat from May to August, boarding at the Kwajelein US military base, or from dive shops on Majuro.
Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.
"Bikini Atoll is a great place to dive world war 2 ships wrecks and the shark pass.
Berman Lirok Caleb, September 2016
"Once you get to the Marshall Islands there's nothing to do BUT dive. Regardless, it is the best diving I have EVER experienced, even better than Palau. Reason being that you could go to 4 different atolls have 4 completely different yet equally as amazing dive experiences in each. Jaw dropping coral in Arno, eery WWII wreck dives in Bikini Wotje, massive eagle rays in Rongelap, sea turtles sharks in Ailinglaplap, etc. etc. etc. I lived there for a year, and so, got to experience more than the average vacationer. However, despite the cost time it takes to get there, the RMI is more than worth it. I, personally, was blown away."
An American aircraft carrier which after the second World War became surplus to requirements. She became part of Operation Crossroads - a series of nuclear weapon tests conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll in the summer of 1946. Its purpose was to investigate the effect of nuclear weapons on naval ships. Baker was detonated 90 feet (27 m) underwater. The Saratoga and 11 other crafts were sunk.
The wreck of the Saratoga lies between 12 and 50 m. She is upright and in good condition with abundant sea life. A great dive - voted one of the best wreck dives in the world.
Crossroads Baker nuclear weapons test, 26 July 1946. The Saratoga, to the left of the picture, is being lifted out of the water. She sank later that day.
"US carrier, WWII. Sunk at Bikini atoll after war by Baker H-bomb test. Completely loaded when it was sunk. Bombs all over the place. About 160' to the sand. Best wreck anywhere.
"Amazing aircraft carrier on Bikini Atoll, with huge amounts of historical history with lots to explore
"Japanese battle ship sunk at bikini atoll. Largest superstructure I've ever seen, by a long shot. 170' to the sand.
Paul Ludwick, January 2019
"This place must be the hard coral capital of the world! Enormous corals, anemonies, nudibranchs, WWII wrecks. There used to be lots of sharks, but the Chinese are illegally fishing them. I know because we caught and reported a boat shark fishing inside the atoll. Very hard to visit, no dive operation there. We went on an expedition trip. No tourist facilities. No restaurants. One grocery store which had nearly no merchandise. We brought our food with us. There's only one guest house on the whole atoll which sleeps 8 with 2 bathrooms. No hot water. Hotplate cooking in the kitchen. Very rustic. I'd go back there in a heartbeat.
KC Skinner, USA
Offers eleven-night trips to Bikini Atoll. Transport at Kwajalein Airport which is served from, Honolulu, United States can be arranged by boat's representatives.
PO Box 239
Republic of the Marshall Islands
Tel (692) 625-2525 ext.141 / (692) 625-1796
Raycrew Dive Shop
PO Box 4172
Republic of the Marshall Islands
Tel (692) 455-1492
- Coral Reef Fishes, Indo-Pacific and Caribbean
- by Ewald Lieske and Robert Myers, Harper Collins, 400 Pages, Paperback
An excellent, comprehensive guide to reef fishes, which is small and light enough to pack regardless of amount of diving equipment. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to identify the fish they see whilst diving the tropics.
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