“Natural erosion” triggered the collapse of Darwin’s Arch in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador’s Environment Ministry said.
Images distributed Tuesday show only two rocky pillars left at the northernmost island of the Pacific Ocean archipelago, which lies 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off the South American continent.
The iconic arch is famed as a diving spot for underwater encounters with sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays and dolphins. Diving website Scuba Diver Life said visitors on a diving boat withessed the collapse just before midday, local time, on Monday, adding that no divers were harmed.
The rock formation was named after , who visited the islands in 1835 on the HMS Beagle and developed the theory of evolution by examining Galapagos finches.
UNESCO declared the area a . The Galapagos archipelago comprises 234 islands, inlets and rocks, and boasts unique flora and fauna not seen anywhere else on earth. Human settlement is restricted to four islands that are home to some 30,000 residents.
The marine reserve, located at the confluence of three ocean currents, is described on UNESCO’s website as a unique “living museum and showcase of evolution.”
Alarm over fishing fleets
Last year, an advisory body to UNESCO, the (IUCN), voiced alarm about the “massive presence of industrial fishing vesselsfrom diverse nationalities” near the Galapagos Islands.
Darwin’s Arch, once 18 meters (59 feet) high, stood above a submerged plateau — a kilometer form Darwin Island — enabling divers to hold onto rocks underwater and watch the spectacle of marine species.
Landing was not allowed due to biodiversity protection regulations.
Because of its shape, the arch was sometimes likened to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.
ipj/nm (AFP, EFE)