orange goo alaska
© NOAA FisheriesThe orange goo that washed ashore near the village of Kivalina was identified as microscopic eggs (shown here) from a crustacean
The mystery of the floating orange goo has been solved.

But the results have only served to increase the fears of the small Alaskan village which spotted the colourful sight struck on their lagoon for the first time ever two weeks ago.

It soon disappeared but the local Eskimo community, which relies on the surrounding waters for its very existence, feared long-term damage to the water quality and particularly the fish and plants they use for food.

At first the leading theory suggested the goo was made up of millions of microscopic eggs.

But now scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have confirmed the presence of fungal spores which create rust, explaining the luminous colour.

The gunk appeared August 3 at the edge of Kivalina, an Inupiat community of just 374 souls at the tip of a barrier reef on Alaska's northwest coast.

There was a report of dead minnows found in the lagoon the night the substance appeared.

City administrator Janet Mitchell said those fears would only intensify with the latest analysis, which did not include toxicity tests.

She herself was troubled about the community's dwindling reserves in village water tanks that will need to be topped off.

'We are going have more concern from the public,' she said. 'If I'm concerned, then there will be others with concerns.'

© APMagnified views of the orange goo taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that show it consists of fungal spores rather than microscopic eggs
Rust fungus is a plant disease that creates a yellowish-orange or brown discolouration on leaves and stems before eventually growing spores that spread the infection.

Scientists have not determined whether this spore is among the 7,800 known species of rust fungi or some kind of unknown Arctic species.

They now need to determine the host of the spores and the 'fruiting body' akin to the mushroom stage, said Steven Morton, a scientist at a NOAA lab in Charleston, South Carolina, where the final tests were conducted.

A team at the lab found the spores to be unlike any they've examined, but Morton said many rust fungi in the Arctic have yet to be identified.

Morton said determining toxicity was beyond his area of expertise, but he 'would definitely filter these spores out' of water sources. He said one of the tests run on the substance was to determine if there were any mineral componets, such as iron.

'There were no minerals at all,' he said.

Alaska officials will discuss the mystery among state agencies to determine whether to what actions to take if a potential risk is seen, said Emanuel Hignutt, a chemist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation lab in Anchorage. Not knowing the exact species complicated the matter, he said.

© Unknown
With so much still unknown, Mrs Mitchell is determined to find out how safe the community is, even if it means sending out frozen and refrigerated samples of the substance for private testing.

'Who's to say it didn't settle to the bottom of the lagoon?' she said.

The gooey, slimy substance turned powdery once it dried and probably went airborne, said Kivalina Councilwoman Frances Douglas.

The material was found on at least one roof and in buckets set all over the village to collect rainwater.

Douglas estimated the volume of the substance at more than a thousand gallons.

She said it was widely spread along the Wulik River and the lagoon, which is a half mile wide and six miles long.

Orangey water was reported as far away as the village of Buckland, 150 miles southeast of Kivalina.

She found no reassurance in the findings announced Thursday. 'The fact that they have not completely ID'd this thing still leaves more questions in my mind,' she said. 'I'm not comfortable with this thing.'