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Boat tourists in the Galapagos reportedly saw Darwin's Arch collapse into the Pacific Ocean. The unique rock formation, named after the British naturalist Charles Darwin, was often compared to France's Arc de Triomphe.
"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 witnessed the collapse just before midday local time on Monday, adding that no divers were harmed.
The rock formation was named after British scientist Charles Darwin, 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 Natural World Heritage zone in 1978. 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."
Last year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — an advisory body to UNESCO — voiced alarm about the "massive presence of industrial fishing vessels from 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 observe 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)