HONOLULU – A huge swell over the weekend hit the southern shores of the island of Hawaii, interrupt a marriagedamaging condos and also shattering a “significant portion” of the famous 90-foot-tall Holei Sea Arch in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park.
The loss was captured in back-to-back photos by photographer Janice Wei, who was documenting the massive waves in the park on Sunday and saw a large crack on the leg of the arch, according to Ben Hayes, head of interpretation and l education at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park The next day, she noticed that a large piece had fallen off the bottom inside of the arch leg.
Hayes told USA TODAY the lost chunk is estimated to be “at least half a ton” of rock. That’s about the weight of an adult male polar bear.
As for what that means for the bow: “It could be here for another two centuries or two days.”
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The Holei Sea Arch is made from lava flows 550 years ago. When the lava hit the water, it cooled and turned into rock, which increased the size of the island of Hawaii. In the many years since then, differential erosion – when layers of lava erode away from the sea and winds at irregular rates – has formed the arch.
The natural process of erosion will not stop either. “It’s something that’s part and parcel of a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, that the landscape is constantly being created and changed,” Hayes said.
The National Park Service has observed cracks around the arch for some time and has closed it.
For now, it’s easy to see the arch while it’s still intact. The natural wonder is at the end of the Chain of Craters road – it’s the most accessible of the dozens of arches along the spectacular South Coast.
During the day, people can take the popular Puna Coast Trail (no permit required) to see the arch, as well as the Pu’u Loa Petrogylph Field with rock carvings. For a wilder arch viewing experience, you can get a permit to stay overnight at the backcountry campsite Halape, accessible by a few paths. Be prepared with plenty of water and keep in mind that there is minimal shade.
People should watch out for cracks and instability along the cliffs and big waves in this area.
“It’s a living lava landscape,” Hayes said. “Not only does it give the opportunity to see incredible wonders, but it demands our respect. Everyone must be prepared and respectful of the power of this place.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Waves damage the Holei Sea Arch in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park