Biology professor's classes take a dip into the ocean and Jimmy Buffet
RELEASED: March 27, 2008
In fact, to get the inspiration going early, he begins many of his days by playing Jimmy Buffet albums. Lyrics like "Mother, mother ocean, I have heard your call" and "I have a Caribbean soul I can barely control" are regular words students hear as they stumble into 8 a.m. classes—the only classes Sikkel teaches.
"The ocean is more than 70 percent of our planet, and I think it makes up much more of me!" Sikkel says.
Sikkel's work in the Virgin Islands involves observations and experiments to determine things such as how the time of day influences parasite loads (it seems they are most active at night), whether cleaner shrimp actually remove parasites and many other factors impacting reef organisms.
In addition, Sikkel and his team's involvement this year in the Earthwatch Expedition was documented by Omniscopic Productions for an episode of National Geographic's "Wild Chronicles" to be aired later this year. The research for the expedition was conducted at the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station, which is owned by the University of the Virgin Islands and operated by Clean Islands International. Experiments also were conducted at Coral World Ocean Park in the Virgin Islands.
Sikkel points out that environmental changes far from the ocean can have negative impacts on coral reefs and their inhabitants. For example, when he traveled to Puerto Rico with his CentreTerm class in January, Sikkel planned to take his students to a pristine coral reef located off the coast of Carlos Rosario Beach on the small island of Culebra.
Shortly after they arrived, Sikkel and his students were given bad news: the entire reef was dead. It had been killed in a 2005 bleaching event, during the hottest year on record for the Northern Hemisphere and record hurricane activity on the island.
"A reef that took hundreds to thousands of years to develop was killed in one summer due to high seawater temperatures, which result in corals becoming stressed and thus more susceptible to disease," Sikkel says.
"Having no reef is like playing football with no offensive line," he continues. "The waves plow on through and cause erosion along the beach. The death of a reef in Culebra, Puerto Rico, was caused by warming sea temperatures, which are caused by global climate change, which appears to be caused largely by human industrial activity—something that is almost non-existent on Culebra itself.
"So, you can link things like coal burning in Kentucky and elsewhere to the demise of reefs in the Caribbean and other areas," Sikkel says.
While Sikkel's CentreTerm students saw first-hand the type of marine life he encounters regularly in his explorations, the students in his classes on campus also benefit from his studies around the globe.
"Basically, I try to link everything I do in class to the ocean," he says. "If I'm teaching general biology and want to talk about enzymes, I use hatching enzymes in marine fish eggs, for example."
Sikkel also arranges internships for students who are interested in working on marine organisms, and he has speakers who visit his classes from areas such as Australia, Hawaii and the Caribbean island of St. Maarten.
Last year, Centre student Lillian Tuttle '08 accompanied Sikkel to the Virgin Islands on a similar expedition. She became part of the Earthwatch staff and assisted with research before, during and after the expedition. She also is a co-author with Sikkel of a presentation they are giving at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., this summer.
In collaboration with Dr. Rob Ziemba, Centre assistant professor of biology, two of Sikkel's students currently are doing lab work associated with his reef studies, and he plans to take at least one student to the Virgin Islands this summer to aid in research.
"If I couldn't continue my marine research, I would be an uninspired and uninspiring teacher," Sikkel says. "The ocean fuels my passion for study and teaching."
While earning a Ph.D. in zoology at Oregon State University, Sikkel received a grant from the National Geographic Society to study garibaldi damselfish at Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California. His research contributed to the garibaldi being named the California State fish and prohibited the collection of it.
Most of Sikkel’s research funding has come from the Earthwatch Institute, The Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR) and the Australian Research Council. He is also on the board of directors of the Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) conservation organization.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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