Bikini Atoll is a large atoll in the Marshall Islands, which is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean. Bikini Atoll is one of 29 atolls in the country. Its name translates to “Coconut Place” in Marshallese. Of the atoll's 23 islands, the only two that have ever had permanent human populations are Eneu and Bikini. No people currently live on Bikini, however, because it was the site of extensive nuclear testing during World War II. Bikini's native population, which was forced to relocate, currently resides on Kili Island, which is over 400 miles from Bikini Atoll. Tourism is increasing in Bikini Atoll, and the islands first opened to diving expeditions in 1996.
Based on artifacts and carbon dating, archaeologists estimate that humans have inhabited the Marshall Islands for over 3,500 years. Remains suggest that the artifacts date back to somewhere between 1960 BC and 1650 BC. Up to the time of the islands' European discovery, the native populations lived a largely subsistence-based lifestyle of farming and fishing. In the late 1520s, Spanish explorers claimed the island country's discovery and called it “Good Gardens.” In the early 1800s, German and Russian explorers came to the country to establish copra plantations. Christian missionaries arrived in the mid-1800s, and the island fell under Japanese rule in 1914. The United States took control of the Marshall Islands in 1944, and the country officially gained independence in 1979.
Despite nuclear testing, Bikini Atoll has a variety of plant and animal life. Its climate is drier than that of other islands in the South Pacific region, and its soils are richer and more fertile, which makes it ideal for growing coconuts. Therefore, coconut product exports are still a major part of the island's economy. Diving-based tourism is injecting revenue into the economy too. Income is also provided from a trust fund established by the United States government to pay for the damage caused by nuclear testing. Reefs off the coast of Bikini Island are starting to regenerate their coral populations following nuclear testing. This is bringing back fish species including bluefin trevally, tuna, and barracuda, which in turn enable sport fishing. These fish, along with sharks, whales, and shipwrecks, bring divers to the atoll's dive sites, which are among the best in the world. On land, lizards, coconut crabs, and hermit crabs thrive on the interiors of Bikini Atoll's islands.