Orange goo washing ashore in Alaska is egg mass, scientists say

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Mon Aug 8, 2011 5:10pm EDT

Microscopic crustacean eggs which washed up on an Alaskan shore are shown in this undated handout photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to Reuters August 8, 2011. REUTERS/Auke Bay Laboratories/NOAA/Handout

Microscopic crustacean eggs which washed up on an Alaskan shore are shown in this undated handout photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to Reuters August 8, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Auke Bay Laboratories/NOAA/Handout

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A mysterious orange goo that washed ashore in an Alaska village last week and sparked pollution concerns turns out to be a mass of crustacean eggs or embryos, government scientists said on Monday.

Tests of a sample sent by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation produced the results, officials at a laboratory belonging to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Alaska Fisheries Service Center said.

"We now think these are some sort of small crustacean egg or embryo, with the lipid oil droplet in the middle causing the orange color," Jeep Rice, a lead scientist at the Juneau laboratory, said in a news release.

"So this is natural. It is not chemical pollution; it is not a man-made substance," Rice said.

Last week's appearance of the orange substance in the Alaska village of Kivalina initially baffled villagers and experts.

Residents of the Inupiat Eskimo village on Alaska's northwest coast said they had never seen anything like it before, and U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska environmental officials examined it and determined that it was not a petroleum product or other known pollutant.

The material is sticky, but becomes a powder when dried, said Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for NOAA's Fisheries Service in Alaska.

Scientists who made the preliminary identification are confident that they are correct, Speegle said.

"I would say we're pretty darn sure that they're microscopic eggs," she said. "We just don't know what species."

To get a more precise identification, Speegle said, scientists at the Auke Bay lab have sent samples to NOAA's Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research in Charleston, South Carolina.

"As soon as they receive a sample, they will be doing a more in-depth analysis," she said.

Kivalina, a village of nearly 400 people, is located at the tip of a barrier reef jutting out into the Chukchi Sea.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb)

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