Diving at Bikini Atoll, summer 2006...
Following an absolutely amazing and idyllic week in Truk Lagoon Martin and Tracy flew on via Majuro to one of the remotest places in the Pacific Ocean - Bikini Atoll.
If the name Bikini seems familiar but you can't think of anything other than skimpy two piece bathing costumes then you are actually closer to the truth than you might at first think! In 1946 the Americans decided to put on a show for the rest of the world - and specifically for the Russians and the British - to make it clear that they were the world's new superpower. They decided to display their awesome atomic might by gathering together a huge armada of fighting ships with the intention of detonating two atomic bombs in the immediate vicinity - and the place they chose to do it was Bikini Atoll. Shortly after the blasts shocked the watching world a clothing designer created the "Bikini" to commemorate the occasion and yet today you are hard pressed to find anyone who knows why their swimwear is named after a tiny Pacific Atoll!!!
The Bikinian people were moved away from their islands to a tiny, God-forsaken island with US promises that they would be allowed to return sooner not later. But they are still there to this day because as yet Bikini is unable to support them safely. Radioactive pollutants such as Caesium, Iodine and Plutonium are inextricably caught up in the soil and the food chain - coconuts take up the Caesium and coconut crabs eat the fruit. And if they lived there the Bikini islanders would eat both and glow in the dark. So their beautiful islands are still uninhabited 60 years on apart that is from a small group of islanders who work at Bikini Atoll Divers along with a few visiting US Department Of Energy scientists and the American and British dive guides. So you may well be wondering how come it's safe for these guys (and us) to spend any time on Bikini at all... well the radioactive nasties are tied into the soil and the plants so comprehensively that only consumption of the contaminated material is harmful . Assuming you eat food brought onto Bikini from outside you are perfectly safe and a small group of people on the main island can be sustained by food brought in by sea and drinking water extracted by desalination. So effective is the system that it is actually safer in terms of radiation exposure to spend a week on the islands rather than stay at home - believe it or not, despite atomic bomb detonations from 1946 to 1956, and including the largest yielding bomb of all time, Bikini has a lower background radiation level than either the UK or the USA.
Click on the photo on above to run a short movie of the Baker explosion...
We stopped off for a couple of nights en-route from Chuuk to Bikini at Majuro, the ar*ehole of the Pacific, and to say we couldn't wait to get out again is something of an understatement! And get out we did eventually, by Air Marshall Isles or "Roach Air" as we not so fondly prefer to call them! We boarded the tiny De Havilland aircraft and our noses immediately told us that this was likely to be quite a trying flight and the cockroach running across my leg as I sat down rapidly confirmed our suspicions that this plane was not going to win any praise from Kim and Aggie! We then endured multiple take-offs and landings for four hours as we island-hopped our way to Bikini where we finally made our approach down towards a grass and rubble landing strip.
A short transfer by boat from the airstrip island across to the main island and we were soon established in spartan but spotlessly clean en-suite, air-conditioned rooms overlooking the idyllic lagoon through the palm trees - what a delightful situation!
The showpiece of Bikini Atoll is the USS Saratoga, a huge aircraft carrier some 900 feet long built during the 1920s and a stalwart of the Pacific theatre of war. The other wrecks within the lagoon include Admiral Yamato's flagship Nagato from which he issued the infamous attack order for Japan's assault on Pearl Harbour, a pre-WW1 Dreadnought the USS Arkansas, a Liberty Ship, the US submarine Apogon, and two US Navy destroyers, the Lamson and the Anderson.
Did I mention sharks?
The shake down dive for us was conducted on the flight deck and "island" section of the Saratoga... what an amazing shake down it was too! We dropped in and descended to about 8 or 10 metres only to see sharks (plural!!!) circling below us in the gaping maw of the forward aircraft lift. And this dive also proved amazing in that we found ourselves on the bridge 60 years TO THE MINUTE from the moment she had finally sunk after sustaining damage from not one but two atomic explosions. And we were to see far more of "Sara" throughout the week including a dive below the decks into the aircraft hanger area where Helldivers still sit waiting deployment with bombs in their bellies and fuel in their tanks.
There is so much we could tell and we have so many memories, not least being buzzed by an aggressive Grey Reef Shark whilst hanging on a trapeze decompressing - but perhaps the photographs should do the talking instead!
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