Darwin’s Arch fell on May 17, 2021. The iconic Galapagos formation cracked down the middle and slipped into the Pacific Ocean. The role of Darwin’s Arch in its ecosystem cannot be overstated; it was the centerpiece of a rare community, a familiar habitat for the dozens of plant and animal species endemic to the Galápagos Islands. It was the exclusive breeding site of a rare species of bird called the sooty tern, which lands only to mate annually on the Arch. To this day, sooty terns can be seen atop the remaining pillars of Darwin’s Arch, continuing to utilize what’s left of their niche ecosystem even as its keystone disappeared. The Arch’s legacy lives on.
Darwin’s Arch inspires me to study environmental engineering because it serves as the ultimate example of what a human-built structure should be. It fit seamlessly into its environment, it served a necessary purpose, and even as it was degraded, its impact remains positive on its habitat. It stands as the epitome of a sustainable engineering project despite its natural origins. Darwin’s Arch went beyond its visual allure and guided the growth of its natural environment and sustained it for millenia. When it disappeared, it didn’t pollute its habitat – it left a positive mark, one that lives on through the remaining pillars.
Just as Darwin’s Arch served its community, I hope to engineer a world that serves in a proactive, sustainable manner. We engineers can take inspiration from natural features like Darwin’s Arch to build a world that not only does not hurt the environment, but becomes a positive part of the environment. Just because the Arch didn’t last forever doesn’t mean its impacts don’t live on. If anything, its collapse highlights the importance of engineering that has no negative impacts on the earth. Environmental engineering provides a pathway to develop a human habitat and preserve it to protect public health and the environment.