Scientists have identified an -orange-colored gunk that appeared along the shore of a remote Alaska village as millions of microscopic eggs filled with fatty droplets.
However, the mystery is not quite solved. Officials with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Monday they do not know for sure what species the eggs are, although they believe they are some kind of crustacean eggs or embryos.
They also do not know if the eggs are toxic, and that worries many of the 374 residents of Kivalina, an Inupiat community located at the tip of a 12km barrier reef on Alaska’s northwest coast.
There has been at least one report of dead minnows found in the lagoon of the village the night the eggs appeared last week. Residents are also worried about the community’s dwindling reserves in village water tanks even though the orange mass has dissipated from the lagoon and Wulik River, city administrator Janet Mitchell said.
“It seems to be all gone, but if they’re microscopic eggs, who’s to say they’re not still in the river?” Mitchell said.
Scientists also do not know why the unidentified eggs suddenly emerged on the shores of Kivalina last week. Villagers say they’ve never seen such a phenomenon before.
“We’ll probably find some clues, but we’ll likely never have a definitive answer on that,” NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle said.
Samples are being sent to a NOAA laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina, for further analysis. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation also sent samples on Monday to the Institute for Marine Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Kivalina residents live largely off the land and many are worried about the effect on some wildlife and plants from the goo, which turned powdery once it dried — and probably went airborne.
Mitchell said some people went berry picking over the weekend, but could not tell if the goo was on the fruit, called salmonberries, which are the same color of the eggs.
Caribou are in the region now, but she does not believe the migrating animals pose much risk as a food source.
The eggs were found on at least one roof and in buckets set all over the village to collect rain water. City Councilperson Frances Douglas said the gooey, slimy substance was widely spread in streaks along the Wulik River and the lagoon, which is 800m wide and 9.6km long.
Orangey water was reported from as far away as the village of Buckland, southeast of Kivalina.
Douglas estimated the volume of eggs she could see “in excess of a thousand gallons, easily.”
The weather last Wednesday, when the bright substance emerged, only intensified the effect, according to Douglas.
“We had an overcast sky, so it really, really stood out,” she said. “You couldn’t miss it for nothing.”