-- Business blog now available --

A quick note to say that I've set up my Business blog, to be able to speak with a clear voice on both personal and work issues (i.e. by having separate blogs).

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Crowdsourcing Mycological Response Teams to help with the Gulf #oilspill?


In my previous post on this subject, I recapped my personal take on the overall situation.

Having drafted this posted a couple of days ago, I now learn that:

Almost three-quarters of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico has been cleaned up or broken down by natural forces, the US government has said.

A government report says only a quarter of the oil from the BP well remains and that it is "degrading quickly".

The majority had been captured, burned off or evaporated, it states. But more clean-up is necessary officials warn.

The report was released after BP announced its "static kill" procedure to seal the leak was working.

So I thought I’d better post in case something else major happened. Doh!


I’m guessing that despite the good news re the oilspill, that there will remain a challenge to clean up that oil which hit the Gulf coast.

Having pinged an e-mail to Paul Stamets’ team, their response pointed me to a page with the following quote:

The Petroleum Problem

Thank you for visiting fungi.com, and for your interest in the BP oil spill disaster and the potential for mycoremediation.

We are being inundated with requests and cannot individually address all of the questions we have received. We are in direct dialogue with the EPA at the highest levels, and are teaming to implement solutions to this huge disaster. Since we are such a small company, we are stretched to our limits. Your support allows us to dedicate as many of our resources as possible, and for this we thank you. Again, please accept our apologies if we cannot individually address your concerns. Our statement at below will be updated periodically as we gather more information.

[my hyperlink for mycoremediation btw]

I am assuming that Paul Stamets and his team are the primary resource in this domain – i.e. to use fungi to break down pollutants in an ‘eco-friendly’ way. What seems clear is that there are problems with scaling, getting the idea to a wider audience and gaining a following & critical mass.

The article continues:

How can we help?

Knowing that the extent of this disaster eclipses our mycological resources should not be a reason to not act.

I proposed in 1994 that we have Mycological Response Teams (MRTs) in place to react to catastrophic events, from hurricanes to oil spills. We need to preposition composting and mycoremediation centers adjacent to population centers. We should set MRTs into motion, centralized in communities, which are actively involved in recycling, composting and permaculture—utilizing debris from natural or man-made calamities to generate enzymes and rebuild healthy local soils.

I see the urgent need to set up webinar-like, Internet-based modules of education to disseminate methods for mycoremediation training so people throughout the world can benefit from the knowledge we have gained through the past decade of research. Such hubs of learning could cross-educate others and build a body of knowledge that would be further perfected over time, benefiting from the successes and failures of those in different bioregions. The cumulative knowledge gained from a centralized data hub could emerge as a robust yet flexible platform that could help generations to come. Scientists, policy makers, and citizens would be empowered with practical mycoremediation tools for addressing environmental disasters.

Going social

My argument here is that a social approach, akin to the PeopleFinder wiki created in response to Hurricane Katrina, might help MRTs self-organise and conduct operations under a loose ‘umbrella’.

A similar tool might already have been implemented by Deepwater Horizon Response website – but apologies – I’ve not had time to check it out (or the follow-up site RestoreTheGulf.gov).


I’m going to kick speculation about what tools to use into touch for now, as my priority is to post – and update this or post separately as appropriate. However, potential requirements could be:

  • Repository of successful mycoremediation techniques
  • Communications tools
  • Team-based areas where teams can get themselves sorted and manage their activities
  • Connections with mainstream social media tools

Staci Stoller

I wanted to tip my (Stetson hat) to Staci Stoller, a former colleague of mine in London, who has offered to help in getting the message out in Texas. Thanks, Stace! :-)

The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE?

I saw an item on the BBC news site, which took me through to the main page on this, which explained thus:

It is a $1.4 Million competition designed to inspire a new generation of innovative solutions that will speed the pace of cleaning up seawater surface oil resulting from spillage from ocean platforms, tankers, and other sources.

This X CHALLENGE, announced on July 29, 2010, is a one-year competition that begins on August 1, 2010 and culminates in the summer of 2011, with head-to-head competitive demonstrations taking place at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility (OHMSETT) in Leonardo, New Jersey, USA (www.ohmsett.com).

A $1 Million Prize will be awarded to the team that demonstrates the ability to recover oil on the sea surface at the highest oil recovery rate (ORR) and the highest Recovery Efficiency (RE).

So, my initial excitement about something fungi-related winning the prize was tempered by the focus on “cleaning up seawater surface oil”. However, on the ‘competition details’ page I also noticed:

X PRIZE will be finalizing the details over the next 30 days, and will post final rules in September.  We encourage you to PRE_REGISTER as a team and we will keep you informed of any changes and when the detailed rules are posted.

So maybe the scope of the compo could be widened to include prizes for on-shore cleanup efforts?

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