The Marshall Islands lie in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines. The country is comprised of over a thousand islands, each representing a unique population of Micronesians with distinct cultures and histories. One atoll, in particular, has had a disproportionate influence on global culture: Bikini Atoll. The atoll is rich in history, culture, biodiversity, shipwrecks, and radiation. This article covers the basics of Bikini Island such as how to get there, what to do, and what not to do.

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  • Fun Fact: An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef that surrounds a lagoon or central island. The rim of the atoll is usually populated by coral islets or cays that are connected by inlets

Why Visit Bikini Atoll?

The major reasons to visit Bikini Atoll are all tied to its history and culture. The atoll lies at the northern end of the Ralik Chain, which is a large chain of islands within the Marshall Islands. Ralik translates to "sunset" -- an appropriate label considering the breathtaking, glimmering sunsets that grace the shores and mountains of the various isles.

The History And Culture Of Bikini Atoll

Most of the Marshall Islands were at one point controlled by Iroiji, or royal families. With a decentralized monarchic system, the various islands were able to communicate and trade with one another while maintaining relative peace. Archaeologists estimate that humans have inhabited the Ralik Chain for more than 3,000 years. This is impressive considering that the islands are notoriously hot, dry, and sparse.

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In the 1820s, Bikini Atoll was discovered by a Baltic German explorer in service of the Russian Empire. He named it Eschscholtz Atoll after the naturalist (scientist) onboard his ship. Without interacting with the native population much, the Russians used the islands to produce copra (coconut oil). However, the atoll was soon abandoned as it was not nearly as fertile as the southern Marshall Islands.

The native people, after being visited by American missionaries in the mid-1800s, were converted to Christianity. Not much is known about the religion that existed prior to Western contact, except that it was probably animist and polytheistic.

  • Fun Fact: The Bikini Atoll natives are a traditionally matrilineal society

The legacy of the protestant missions is still alive among the Bikini Atoll diaspora. They are known for being especially modest in how they dress. In the 1940s, a French designer launched a new, more revealing form of swimwear that he named after the atoll. This is ironic considering the fact that most native residents are offended by the immodesty of the bikini.

  • Fun Fact: The two-piece bikini is named after Bikini Atoll

Nuclear Testing On Bikini Atoll

In the 1940s, caught in a Cold War nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, The United States assumed control of Bikini Atoll and used the central lagoon to test, explore, and study nuclear bombs. Native residents were forcibly relocated to Rongerik Atoll. Rongerik was previously uninhabited because of inadequate food and water supplies on top of a deeply-held traditional belief that the island is haunted by the Demon Girls of Ujae.

The Bikini Islanders were relocated several more times, which led to mass shock, despair, and severe lack of food. Eventually, after years of living in make-shift refugee camps, the islanders were permanently settled on Kili Island, where they primarily reside to this day.  Relocation to Bikini Atoll was attempted in 1970, but after ten years scientists realized that the island was too radioactive for human habitation.

  • Fun Fact: The underwater town of "Bikini Bottom" from the cartoon television series Spongebob Squarepants was inspired by the radioactivity of Bikini Atoll

With the explosion of the bikini, nuclear bombs, and SpongeBob Squarepants, the identity of Bikini Atoll and its natives was irreversibly tainted by Western exports such as deracination, lechery, existential destruction, and consumerism. A measly trust fund was established to keep the displaced natives from starving on the barren islands on which they were placed.

Related: France's Bikini Atoll of Moruroa: The Paradise France Nuked

How To Visit Bikini Atoll

Quite surprisingly, while it is impossible to stay on Bikini Atoll, it is possible to visit for a day. The journey is a long and tenuous one, but the excitement of exploring underwater radioactive shipwrecks is enticing enough to draw tourists every year. From the United States, the best and only way to get there is by first flying to the largest and southernmost settlement in the Marshall Islands, Kwajalein Atoll.

  • Flights: United Airlines runs three flights a week between Honolulu to Kwajalein
  • Prices: A return flight from Honolulu to Kwajelein costs anywhere between $1,500-$2,500
  • Duration: Seven hours
  • Note: A round trip or onward flight is needed to enter Kwajalein Airport (KWA), which is a U.S. military airport

Most visitors will spend a night at a hotel before continuing onto Bikini Atoll. Only families or specially designated peoples can stay on the Kwajelein's military base. Everyone else will have to take a military-sponsored ferry to Ebeye Island. There is only one hotel there called the Ebeye Hotel, which has 18 rooms. It is notoriously difficult to reserve a room at the Ebeye Hotel, but the following details will be of some use:

  • Place: Ebeye Hotel
  • Address: PO Box 5640, Ebeye, Kwajalein, Marshall Islands
  • Manager: Marie Jacob
  • Contact Details: 692-235-5230 / hotelebeye@yahoo.com

From Ebeye Island, visitors will have to hire a boat that goes to Bikini Atoll for a day.

What To Do On Bikini Atoll

Shipwreck Diving

The most popular activity on Bikini Atoll is scuba diving. There is no shortage of U.S. Navy shipwrecks to explore in the surrounding waters. In fact, the only long-term residents on the island are also divemasters who take small groups of professional divers on extensive tours of the nuclear aftermath.

  • Note: Shipwreck scuba diving on Bikini Atoll costs over $5,000

Sportsfishing

Because Bikini Atoll was abandoned, marine life is in abundance. It is one of the few places in the world where fishermen can hunt in relatively untouched and pristine waters.

Research

Mutagenic radiation left behind by the nuclear explosions has affected the DNA of Bikini Atoll's native plant, bird, and animal populations. What new mutations, both positive and negative, have come about on the island? Will the barren soil ever grow crops that are fit for human consumption? Scientists often visit Bikini Atoll to find out the answers to these important questions.

Next: 10 Haunting Abandoned Island Ruins (& The Stories Behind Them)