Monday, November 17, 2008

AMP Turns 1!

We made it back to Ecuador after an enjoyable, if busy, time running up and down the West Coast of the United States. The Amazon Mycorenewal Project has reached its first birthday and what a year it has been! To commemorate, we had ourselves an AMP board meeting in Northern California with lots of tasty food and lively conversation. I wanted to thank all of our team members, both here in Ecuador and back in the States for all of their fantastic support in helping us get to and participating at speaking events, feeding us occasionally and focusing their considerable collective brain-power to steer our endeavor in the proper direction.

So far, the data that we have gathered has been qualitatively focused. We are now in the midst of designing our third experiment, which will apply what we have learned from obsevering our previous work and with an intent to do intensive chemical analysis and get a quantitative picture of our mycoremediation process. For the past year, our efforts are best described as a feasability study, examining the potential pitfalls and regionally-specific parameters that anyone applying this technique on a grand scale would be wise to account for.

Our qualitative picture of our system is encouraging. We have successfully grown heathy mycelium and mushrooms on concentrations of up to 40% aged petroleum. The application of oyster mushroom spawn to contaminated soil has drastically reduced the odor of petroleum as compared to sites where spawn was not added for control. This observation is important, because the toxic fraction of crude oil are the Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and they are the same compounds you encounter when your city is repaving roads on a hot day. These stinky vapors eventually off-gas and leave behind a largely inert substance we call asphalt, or more specifically asphaltenes. When I say inert, I mean they are not as bioavailable to the living systems they share proximity with and thus, the reduction of oily smell is an indication of a reduction in these same PAHs. Supporting this hypothesis is the difference between fungal-treated contamination layers and controls to the touch. Controls (without mycelium) were still sticky to the touch and smearing our latex gloves months after the experiment began, while those that had spawn added were dry to the touch. This further bolsters the our supposition that the PAHs have been significantly reduced, since the presence of PAHs in a sample of petroleum results in a liquid state at normal temperatures.

None of this is the final word on our work, since we still need extensive chemical analysis to support our hypothesis. Luckily, we feel confident that we are ready for this important phase and we have worked out some of the "bugs" in previous experiments. These include providing adequate shelter and security for that shelter and site, refining our technique of acclimating spawn to oil-metabolizing, remediation site design, questions about reinoculation and avoiding biological contamination in a diverse, tropical environment.

As the Amazon Mycorenewal Project enters into another year of work, we hope to focus on skill-transfer with our partners in Lago Agrio and the codifying of all we have done so that research can continue in affected areas with a reference onhand. Since there are many types of contamination throughout the Sucumbios Province, we presently feel that the potential for success with mycoremediation in the Amazon focuses on oil-saturated sediments, of which unfortunately there is no shortage.

Like all nonprofit endeavors, we are working within a limited budget and will ultimately need additional funding to continue fleshing out the most efficient and appropriate applications of mycoremediation in the Amazon, not to mention continuing the education of community leaders on its use. Our sponsoring organization, Cloud Forest Institute, is a registered 501c3 nonprofit that will gladly accept donations of any amount to support our work here. Additionally, grant recomendations can be sent to me directly at the email located on this blog.

Finally, I want to thank all of my readers for following our work where ever you are and for your words of support. Thanks!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

More Speaking Dates in California

Headed back down from the Pacific Northwest, Jess and I will be speaking in the Bay Area on two occasions:

Thursday, November 6th, 7-9 pm,
Green Fusion Design Center, 14 Greenfield Avenue, San Anselmo, CA. Graciously hosted by Permaculture Marin

Saturday, November 8th, 6 pm Thanksgiving Pot Luck,
729 Apgar St, Oakland, CA. Graciously hosted by Powershroom

Monday, October 20, 2008

ChevronTexaco Loses US Appeal

ChevronTexaco lost its bid for arbitration in New York and it's case that the Republic of Ecuador is solely responsible for the ecological damage created by oil exploration in the Amazon. This is good news for the continuing case in Lago Agrio, which now cannot be derailed by a contradicting US verdict.

Friday, October 3, 2008

AMP US Speaking Tour!

Hello Fellow Fungophiles,

I am presently back in the United States of America for a visit and speaking tour. We will be speaking at several locations until mid-November, when we return to Ecuador.

We will be holding an event tomorrow, October 4th from 3-6PM in Arcata, California at Let it Grow store, 889 9th St. Wounded Planet Foundation will be hosting the event.

On October 11th-12th I will be speaking at the Puget Sound Mycological Society's 45th Annual Wild Mushroom Show at Center for Urban Horticulture of University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.

I will also be speaking at the Bioneers Satellite Conference in Seattle on October 17th at 4:15PM.

Other events in Grass Valley and Marin County, CA are in the works for November. Watch this space for details.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Lovable Lago

One of the aims of this blog has been to gather together diverse links and articles concerning the both mycoremediation and the continuing oil contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. These subjects have ranged from updates on related political developments both here in Ecuador and in the United States, as well as background information on the science of remediation. My goal has also been to make this blog interesting for both those without a background in biology and for those with a keen interest in mycoremediation. For the latter group, here is a link to the report prepared for the Washington State Department of Transportation entitled "Mycoremediation of Aged Petroleum Hydrocarbon Contaminants in Soil." This report, prepared by Dr. Susan A. Thomas (et al.) is now 10 years old and for that reason, I can only assume, it has now been released on the web. The WSDOT report details the experimental process that Paul Stamets popularized in his book Mycelium Running.

Dr. Thomas works at Battelle Laboratories directing the research of many mycoremediaiton applications and has projects running that include fungal remediation of sediments contaminated with both petroleum hydrocarbons and benzene. Thomas holds a joint mycoremediation patent with Paul Stamets and scientists Jack Word and Meg Pinza.

We just returned from our recent trip to Lago Agrio and I seem to have cultivated an affection for that gritty, complicated, border boomtown. Most gringos like myself use Lago as an outpost to launch themselves into the nearby jungle reserve, Cuyabeno. I believe this is so because the guidebooks do Lago and injustice, describing the place as rife with dangers and empty of charm. Lago is in a soupy-hot tropical region prone to sudden downpours that I have found myself sometimes praying for. There is a significant Colombian population, due to its proximity to Ecuador’s northern neighbor and in my opinion, this contingent has had a positive impact on the cuisine, with sweet, buttery rolls called pan de bono.

I’ve spent enough time in Lago to know that if I need to make fast friends with a reserved petrolero while poking around a contaminated site, mentioning my penchant for the local gut-rot chichicara is a sure-fire strategy. Women in Lago Agrio have abandoned the traditional conservative dress of most of Ecuador for something more akin to the fashion of Spring Break—perhaps due to the concentration of “Night Clubs”, or perhaps just because it is so persistently, impossibly, sweltering. After a predictably long day working out a our field site, invariably consisting of some form of manual labor, we can look forward to cold Pilsner, unidentified jungle meat, and perhaps some salsa dancing if we are up to it.

The latest news in this region is the recent spillage of 10,000 gallons of crude oil and waste water into the the Agua Rico River in the Shushifindi region of Sucumbios Province (the same province as Lago). In and around Lago Agrio, spills are so commonplace that they only make the international press when they reach ridiculous proportions. For an example, just down the road from our field site in Lago Agrio, we encountered a ruptured oil pipeline that had been crudely and haphazardly repaired with the trunk of a small tree hammered into the pipe. The pipeline was actively leaking what we calculated as roughly 155 gallons of crude per day, directly into the stream underneath. Donald called it in and we went on with our day.

Friday, August 22, 2008

MycoTour and Reinoculation

Striking the correct balance between keeping this blog up-to-date and posting information that is interesting to even the most avid mycoremediation devotee has been challenging. Although a lot of my time was recently spent preparing for and recovering from our 11-day MycoTour of Ecuador. From the previous entry one might infer that it was a complete disaster. However, I want to say that while Bill’s death was hard on everyone, we had an unforgettable time together and learned a lot. The MycoTour brought together mushroom aficionados from mycological societies from as far south as San Diego to as far North as Vancouver BC. The West Coast fungivore community was well represented.

With our fantastic group we visited our field sites and heard about the current developments in the Texaco-Chevron litigation from Frente de Denfesa de la Amazonas lawyer Pablo Fajardo. While at the Frente offices, we had the opportunity to view the short documentary entitled Contamination and Testimonies of the Affected which you can view on Frente’s website. Later in the tour we had the opportunity to apply the collective knowledge of the assembled mycophiles to aid an ongoing biological inventory at the research refuge BioMindo in Mindo, Ecuador. AMP volunteer Danny Newman has posted a collection of the his excellent photos of the scores of mushrooms we encountered on our forays and at our field sites here.

All this activity might cause one to wonder what has been happening with the research. Backing up a bit, just before the MycoTour Ricardo and I went out to Lago Agrio to add mycelium to our boxes and pits. Some of our treatments had fresh mycelium replacing old, dying mycelium and some of our treatments had the old mixed with the new. As it turns out, we got overconfident with our excellent growth and did not anticipate that the turning would risk contamination. So our pits have been infested with an opportunistic black mold. This isn’t disasterous, but it is an opportunity to learn about the best way to maintain the strongest mycelium possible.

We decided to reinoculate with fresh mycelium to continue our culture, since all fungi lives only so long on a given substrate. If reinoculation is not a smart option, then playing with our initial inoculation and it's proportion to the contaminated soil is a good option. Our use of sawdust means that our mycelium has a shorter, but more vigorous life than if it were growing on say, cut logs and branches. The reason for the shorter life-cycle on sawdust has to do with the greater surface area offered by sawdust. The more surface area, the greater the biological availability of nutrients and, in our case, the quicker the remediation.

The current set of experiments has had a greater focus on qualitative assessment, punctuated by modest chemical analysis to compare with our observations. Our reasoning for this had a lot to do with budgetary concerns, since chemical analysis is an expensive process and often not necessary to establish that a fungal culture is healthy. Basically, with the information we have gleaned in the last six months of experimentation, I feel confident that we can design other, smaller and shorter experiments that will help us fine tune our method.

In other news, in less than a month Jess and I will be visiting the United States along the West Coast and the Chicago area. Watch this space for speaking dates and feel free to email me if you would like to host us at your local mycological society, classroom or community center.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Farewell to Bill

Bill and Joan joined us for our very first MycoTour of Ecuador as part of a fundraiser for our work here. The MycoTour included visits to our field sites in Lago Agrio, mushroom forays in Ecuador's jungle and, among many other activities, a reality ''Toxic Tour'' of oil contamination in the Sucumbios province. Both mushroom enthusiasts living in Vancouver, B.C., Bill and Joan were a delight to travel with. We were all shocked by Bill's sudden passing, as we were all impressed by the easy pull-ups that this tough, friendly man was doing in the jungle lodge we visited. I feel lucky to have shared Bill's 83rd birthday in the Amazon with him and honored to have known such a vigorous spirit as Bill. Both Jess and I count Joan as one of our good friends and our heart goes out to her in this difficult time. Below I have reposted Bill's obituary, may he rest in peace.

William Campbell

It is with great sadness that we announce the sudden and unexpected death
of William “Bill” Campbell, in Papallacta, Ecuador on July 18th, 2008, two
days after his 83rd birthday. Bill was born in Derry, North Ireland and raised
in Glasgow, Scotland, served two years in the British Army and married
Margaret McGoldrick Doyle in 1952. They lived in Paisley, Scotland where he
still has many friends and relatives today. Bill and Margaret came to live in
Canada in 1966 and chose White Rock, BC to be their home since 1969.
Bill was pre-deceased by his wife of 47 years in 1999 and a son, John, in
1975. He is survived by his son William “Liam” Campbell of White Rock,
BC, step-sons Joe Doyle of Richmond B.C. and Jim (Kath) Doyle of Oldham
England and their family. As well, a sister, Lilly Conway and family and
brother, John (Isabelle) and family in Scotland. Bill will be deeply missed by
his close friend and companion of 8 years, Joan O’Reilly and her children
and grand children. At the time of his untimely death, Bill and Joan were
travelling with the Amazon Mycorenewal Project in Ecuador. Special thank
you to the coodinators of the project, especially Jess Work and Brian Pace
who provided an incredible amount of assistance, support and translation
when dealing with the authorties to arrange creamation to bring Bill home.
Prior to leaving Ecuador, some of Bill’s ashes were spread on the Island of
Isabela in the Galapagos, a place Bill always wanted to go.

A funeral service will be held at the Star of the Sea Parish, Good Shepherd
Church, 1:00 p.m. Wednesday, August 6th, 2008 located at 2250 150
Street, Surrey. A celebration of Bill’s life will follow at the Elks Lodge #431,
1469 George Street, White Rock. Internment will take place at Gardens of

If people wish, in lieu of flowers they
may send donations in Bill’s name to
the Amazon Mycorenewal Project, a
volunteer based organization aimed at
cleaning up oil polluted areas in Lago
Agrio, Ecuador. Please contact Jess
Work via email
for further information and to donate to
this project.