Outside magazine, January 1996
Move over, Belau. The Marshall Islands' Bikini Atoll, nuked repeatedly in U.S. surface tests in the forties and fifties, is about to become the South Pacific's new must-dive local. "No question," says Daniel J. Lenihan, chief of the National Park Service's Submerged Cultural Resources Unit, who was among the first to explore the isle's postnuclear depths. "Bikini is one of the foremost diving spots on the planet."
The swords-into-snorkels conversions began three years ago, when native Bikinians, still in exile while waiting for soil radiation levels to drop enough to allow agriculture, unveiled plans to open a scuba resort on the site of a former Department of Energy field station. The digs, set to open this July, will be small-scale, allowing a few lucky divers to get intimate with a sunken fleet in Bikini's lagoon. Retired vessels such as the USS Saratoga and the USS Arkansas went down in 1946 test blasts designed to determine, among other things, what nuclear weapons would do to ships.
Today, the explosive past is oddly unapparent on lush and edenic Bikini, and it's reefs, unfished since the blasts, appear as if they've never had contact with humankind. Meanwhile the Saratoga sits intact and upright, its bridge just under the surface. All of which tends to leave the atoll's admirers wondering about France's much-reviled nuking at Mururoa and Fanngataufa Atolls last year, Was this weapons-testing or ground-breaking for a Club Scuba de Pacificque, to open in 2046?