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Apostles lose one of their own

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A view of the Twelve Apostles before the collapse of the monolith in the foreground.

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Australia
Melbourne (Australia)

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- It has taken just a few seconds for the sea to remake one of Australia's most distinctive coastal attractions, the Twelve Apostles.

The collection of limestone monoliths, or sea stacks, have been standing guard along the southwest coast of the Australian state of Victoria for thousands of years.

The distinctive stacks are set a few meters offshore, standing in a rough line along the coast.

But wave action has been chipping away at the monoliths, eroding them by a few millimeters every year.

Finally, one of the stacks gave way on Sunday at about 9.20 a.m. local time (2320 GMT Saturday), collapsing into the sea and leaving just a pile of rubble a few meters above sea level.

Witnesses told park rangers the stack "shimmied and shuddered," before imploding into the water.

The demise of the 50-meter monolith means there are just eight apostles left. The name "Twelve Apostles" has always been a misnomer -- there have only ever been nine.

The collection of monoliths is one of the key attractions along Victoria's Great Ocean Road, a spectacular 300-kilometer drive that starts near Torquay, about 100 kilometers west of Melbourne, and runs through Port Campbell to Warrnambool. The road plays hosts to hundreds of thousands of visitors and generates about $800 million a year in tourism revenue.

Photographs and television images of the Twelve Apostles have appeared in Victoria state's most recent tourism campaigns and are among Australia's most recognizable natural landmarks, along with other monoliths such as Ayers Rock (Uluru) in central Australia.

Australian newspapers carried "before" and "after" photographs Monday, taken by a 15-year-old boy who witnessed the collapse.

About 15 years ago, another of the Great Ocean Road's main attractions, the London Bridge natural arch that linked the mainland to offshore rocks, also collapsed into the sea.

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