On May 17, 2021, this famous natural bridge named for the English biologist collapsed into the Pacific Ocean, a result of erosion, according to Ecuador’s Ministry for the Environment. Popular with tourists visiting by cruise ship, the UNESCO World Heritage site teems with marine fauna, from manta rays to whale sharks and hawksbill turtles.

Darwin’s Arch, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

On May 17, 2021, this famous natural bridge named for the English biologist collapsed into the Pacific Ocean, a result of erosion, according to Ecuador’s Ministry for the Environment. Popular with tourists visiting by cruise ship, the UNESCO World Heritage site teems with marine fauna, from manta rays to whale sharks and hawksbill turtles.
Photograph by Rodrigo Friscione, Alamy

These breathtaking natural wonders no longer exist

Natural and human-caused forces constantly reshape Earth’s landscape.

Landscapes shape our sense of place, yet Earth is constantly changing. The forces of volcanism, wind, water, sun, and, yes, people, relentlessly conspire to transform what we consider familiar terrain—pummeling cliffs into beaches, eroding vast canyons, forming new land with bubbling lava, and shifting the course of mighty rivers. 

As we return to travel, we shouldn’t be surprised to find some things have changed. After all, change is the only constant—an idea seeded by Greek philosopher Heraclitus back in the fifth century B.C. and echoed by philosophers since. But people often forget that Heraclitus believed fear of change is also a constant. Perhaps it’s this sense of looming impermanence that compels travelers to see natural wonders before they’re forever changed. 

In the last 50 years alone, hundreds of natural landmarks around the world have drastically shape-shifted—or worse, disappeared. Most recently, Darwin’s Arch in the Galápagos Islands collapsed into the sea, joining other structures, such as Arches National Park’s “Wall Arch” and Malta’s “Azure Window,” lost to history. Sites like these serve as reminders that our planet is a dynamic place. Here are landmarks the world has lost—and some fragile sites you can still visit.

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This story has been updated since it first published on Sept. 14, 2017.

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