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The 150-meter San Rafael Waterfall disappeared because of a sinkhole.
Considered the tallest waterfall in Ecuador, the San Rafael Waterfall attracted thousands of visitors every year. The falls were located along the Coca River and were known for having abundant vegetation and butterflies.
The NASA Earth Observatory reported that the water cascading from the falls stopped flowing in early February. According to local officials, a sinkhole appeared and changed the flow of its water source. However, what caused the sinkhole remains unconfirmed.
Geologist Alfredo Carrasco speculated that earthquakes and volcanic activity in the area naturally caused the sinkhole. He mentioned that an intense earthquake in 1987 severely damaged the trans-Ecuadorian oil pipeline that goes through the area.
Contrary to that, South America Water Program coordinator Emilio Cobo suggested that a nearby hydroelectric plant that opened in 2016 triggered the sinkhole. He said that sediments from the river were likely trapped by the hydroelectric plant, which increased the erosive effect of the water.
Researchers believe that the sinkhole has changed the landscape of the region, as it turned the river into three small streams, with each one having small waterfalls. According to experts, the new waterfalls could increase the risks of landslides and potentially harm animals in the area.
Despite the massive changes that the sinkhole has caused, Ecuador’s tourism ministry said that it has no plans to restore the San Rafael Waterfall. The ministry has also prohibited tours of the falls.