Updated at 4.10pm with mayor's comments
A cave along Malta’s southern coast collapsed over Friday and Saturday, creating a short-lived limestone arch which only held up for hours before also giving way.
Għar Ħanex, which lay on a stretch of coastline on the outskirts of Qrendi between Għar Lapsi and Wied iż-Żurrieq, is believed to have initially collapsed on Good Friday.
That first collapse turned what used to be a cave into a new arch, prompting tentative comparisons with the now-defunct Azure Window, which caved in just over two years ago.
The short-lived natural arch which was formed when Għar Ħanex initially caved in. Video: Facebook/JP Muscat
Those comparisons proved to be unwittingly prophetic. Within hours, the newly-formed arch also caved in, leaving a gaping hole where Għar Ħanex used to be.
'Fierce gales took their toll'
“The iconic Ghar Haniex on the Qrendi coastline collapses, due to rough seas and coastal erosion,” wrote Qrendi mayor David Schembri on Facebook. “Nature gives and nature takes away”.
The cave had already weathered some damage during last February's vicious storm, he later told Times of Malta. "Fierce gales took their toll," he said.
"We will have to ask authorities to inspect and give us a situational report," he said, noting that the site, which is designated as a Special Area of Conservation, benefits from Natura 2000 protection.
Natura 2000 is an EU-wide network of nature conservation areas which enjoy specific protection under the EU's Birds and Habitat Directives.
When Times of Malta visited the scene on Saturday afternoon, sea around the area of the collapsed cave was a murky brown, as waves lapped against the collapsed rock, washing it away.
The onetime cave was a popular site among hikers and kayakers, offering them some respite from the sun during the hot summer months.
It formed part of a series of coastal formations in the area which are known as Nuffied, mayor Schembri explained.
"These include a small cove known as il-Maqluba tal-baħar, the Ras il-Miġnuna natural arch, Ħalq it-Tafal and in-Nuffied iż-Żgħir," he said.
Mr Schembri urged hikers to keep to well-defined tracks as they made their way across the coastal landscape, to steer clear of the edges of cliffs and to respect hunters who used the area to hunt for quail during the spring hunting season.
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