About hannahaichelman

I am a first year masters student at Old Dominion University studying temperate corals off the coast of Virginia.

Final Product: Fantastic Virginia Corals and Where to Find Them

I am really excited with how the final video turned out! Poor diving conditions prevented me from getting a lot of the extra video that I was hoping for, but I think I made good use of what I have. Taking into account the comments from our last meeting, I tried to create a story that introduces the viewer to a relatively unknown coral species and its importance to the coast of Virginia. It has been uploaded to the Virginia Sea Grant YouTube page, check it out here: https://youtu.be/ICCY8NtFVfk


First Draft: “Fantastic Virginia Corals and Where to Find Them”

Hannah Aichelman

December 2, 2016

Video Title: “Fantastic Virginia Corals and Where to Find Them”

Goals of the video:

  • Introduce the viewer to a temperate coral native to Virginia, Astrangia poculata (The Northern Star Coral)
  • Educate the viewer about what a coral is, and why coral in Virginia is important
  • Show the viewer what my experimental aquaria set-up looks like, and how I use respiration chambers as a “coral treadmill” to understand changes in coral energy budget under changing temperatures.


I have taken several videos and images that I will be able to use in my ASCS video, detailing all parts of the process of going to the field as well as what happens once the corals are back in the lab. I have also contacted colleagues and now have underwater videos of tropical reefs, which I think will provide an interesting comparison to viewers, as most people have a better idea of what a tropical reef looks like as opposed to the relatively unknown temperate reefs.

The following is a table of the video clips that I have so far, including information about the length, content, and location of the video. I will have the opportunity to go diving one more time before the semester is over, and I plan to film more video and take additional photos. I currently feel like my video is lacking underwater footage, as the visibility was very poor last time I went diving offshore. With any luck, the visibility will be much better during my next dive and I will have an abundance of footage to add to the video.


# Video Duration What is Happening? Location Use?
1 0:00:14 View over the side of the boat. Turns 360° to look at me getting gear together and Dan talking. On boat, inside Rudee Inlet ?
2 0:00:07 Me putting weight belts away. On boat, inside Rudee Inlet No
3 0:00:14 Dan and I talking on the boat. Clip starts focused on me standing at back of the boat, moves to Dan standing, ends looking over the side of the boat at the shore. On boat, inside Rudee Inlet ?
4 0:00:08 Camera on the boat motor, looking off the stern of the boat at the wake. Inside Rudee Inlet ?
5 0:00:11 Camera on me assembling dive gear, specifically putting bcd and reg on the air tank. Inside Rudee Inlet, on the boat Yes
6 0:00:49 Camera on me assembling my dive gear. The bcd and reg are already on the tank. On boat, inside rudee inlet Yes, part.
7 0:00:11 Looking forward from the stern of the boat. I’m talking with Captain Curtis, but no audio discernible. On boat, inside rudee inlet Yes
8 0:00:09 Looking off the side of the boat, camera turns to look at the rip rap before leaving Rudee Inlet. Inside Rudee Inlet No
9 0:00:09 Camera on me looking out the window of the boat, I’m taking pictures. You can also see Captain Curtis in frame. Inside Rudee Inlet, on the boat No
10 0:00:09 Video taken from stern of boat, looking forward at me talking with Curtis about the GPS coordinates of the wreck. The boat and therefore the video is moving around a lot, I look like I’m getting tossed a bit. Quality is poor at the beginning (very bright) but gets better at the end. On boat, at light tower. Yes
11 0:00:05 Video of Dan’s SCUBA gear (rebreather setup). No people in the video. No action, but a good picture of the rebreather unit that Dan uses when diving. On boat, at light tower ?
12 0:00:21 Starts out looking at the Chesapeake Light Tower from a distance, then slowly turns almost 280° from the light tower to look first over the boat and then out at the ocean. Far enough offshore that the only view at the end of the clip is the horizon. On boat, at light tower Yes
13 0:00:11 View of the light tower from a distance. Video stays focused on the light tower for the duration. On boat, at light tower ?
14 0:00:17 Video focused on me assembling the Li-Cor light meter and getting ready to take it in the water with us. On boat, at light tower Yes
15 0:00:26 Underwater view of the wreck. Video starts looking down the stern of the boat, then pans and focuses in on a single colony of Astrangia poculata Underwater, at wreck of the JB Eskridge Yes
16 0:00:28 Video starts focused in on the grate where the temp logger was attached. Moves to focus on me removing the temp logger from the wreck and putting it into the dive bag. Underwater, at wreck of the JB Eskridge Yes
17 0:10:53 Underwater view of corals in the respiration chambers. One brown colony and one white colony, each in their own chambers, are visible. In the tanks at ODU Yes
18 0:00:46 Underwater view of tropical reef in Belize, including a pretty Southern Stingray swimming by. Courtesy of Justin Baumann.  Belize, underwater Yes
19 0:00:06 Video of me back-rolling into the water in my SCUBA gear. Courtesy of Ian Vorster. On the boat/in the water Yes

*Question marks in the ‘Use?’ column refer to videos that could serve as filler throughout the video if needed.


Photos available to use as stills throughout the video:

  • From first dive (good visibility and nice shots of the wreck)
    • 2 photos of Dan swimming next to the wreck
    • 4 photos of different parts of the wreck of the JB Eskridge
    • 1 photo of basket of science with collected corals
    • Photo of light tower from a distance
    • 2 photos looking off the stern of the boat at the wake
  • From experiments in the lab
    • Various photos of the respiration chamber and tank set-up
    • Many photos of corals in the tanks at ODU

Order of Events:


I plan to start the video small, focused in on Astrangia and explaining what a temperate coral is. The video will then zoom out to the big problem at hand, in other words the question my research will attempt to answer and how I will answer that question. To finish, the video will zoom back in to the importance of the coral in Virginia and why the viewer should care (essentially finishing with the So What?).


  1. Start zoomed in on a colony of Astrangia poculata (photo).
    • Explain: A. poculata is a temperate coral that lives off the coast of VA, which is in the middle of the species’ range that extends from the Gulf of Mexico to Cape Cod.
  2. Zoom out to show the wreck of the JB Eskridge and an example of A. poculata‘s habitat (montage of photos of the wreck; video #15)
  3. A. poculata and the temperate ‘reefs’ it forms look very different from tropical coral rees
    • Show video #18 as an example of tropical reefs (video courtesy of J. Baumann)
    • Tropical reefs are more biodiverse and the structure is much more complex. Temperate corals do not build reef structure like tropical corals do.
  4. Although A. poculata looks very different from tropical corals, they are closely related evolutionarily
    • Explain what a coral is, consists of a coral animal that secretes a calcium carbonate skeleton with symbiotic algae (Symbiodinium) living within the animal’s tissue.
      • For this explanation, I will freeze the video on a close-up of A. poculata and then animating in additional images with explanations to communicate the concept of the coral ‘holobiont’ (the various organisms that coexist to form a coral).
    • Discuss the fact that A. poculata is unique because it is not required to associate with Symbiodinium, an approach that is referred to as facultative symbiosis.
      • Use side-by-side images of brown and white colonies of A. poculata to show that it can exist as a healthy and happy colony in both states.
  5. We know little about Astrangia in Virginia, but it is still an important study species.
    • Introduce my masters project and the question I am trying to answer, essentially ‘How will Astrangia poculata be affected by increasing sea surface temperatures associated with climate change’.
    • Transition: in order to study this species, I first have to collect then and bring them back to the lab.
  6. Summary of the process of collecting Astrangia in the field and bringing it back to ODU
    • Start in the Lynnhaven Inlet, getting gear set up and ready (video # 5, 6, 14)
    • Transition to clips of the the boat in motion and then the Chesapeake Light Tower once we arrive at the site (video #10, 12)
    • Clip of me back-rolling into the water (video #19, courtesy of I. Vorster)
    • Underwater at the site, show the coral in situ (video #15 and various photos)
    • Show temperature loggers, explain importance of logging temperature and light at the site in understanding the corals’ environment (video #16)
    • Show the basket of science, collected corals (various photos)
    • Clip of boat riding back to shore (video #4 and photos)
    • Clip of coral in tanks back at ODU (various photos)
  7. Summary of my experiments at ODU using the respiration chambers (i.e. the coral treadmill)
    • Once the corals are safe and sound in the tanks at ODU, we let them acclimate, or get used to, the conditions in the tank (various photos of the corals in the holding tank at ODU).
    • When the corals have had enough acclimation time, we start the temperature ramp. The corals are transferred into respiration chambers, aka the coral treadmill (photo of experimental set-up and maybe cute cartoon of corals ‘running’ on a treadmill?) and placed in a water bath. The temperature is slowly increased, and every 2°C I measure respiration and photosynthesis (video #17).
    • By measuring respiration and photosynthesis as the temperature increases, I get an idea of the stress on the coral, as well as how much the symbiont is contributing to the energy budget for brown colonies.
  8. Communicate the importance of my experiments and Astrangia in general as a member of Virginia’s offshore hard bottom ecosystems
    • Although the role and ecosystem importance of tropical corals is well understood, this is not so for temperate corals. However, Astrangia is all over the hard bottom off the coast of Virginia, including the wrecks. Even so, we know very little about this species in general and, more specifically, about this Virginia population. Most of the research so far on this species has been conducted on populations farther north in its range, including Rhode Island and Cape Cod. Our lack of understanding of Astrangia locally includes its ecological significance. Does it play a role in creating habitat used by larval fishes and other invertebrates for shelter? Probably. Is it possibly cementing the wrecks together and keeping them intact? It would be a shame to lose this species before we even understand its function in the ecosystem, which adds to the importance of how this species could respond to future temperature stress. Specifically to Virginia, Astrangia is also important because it is found all over the wrecks, which plays a role in dive tourism and potentially helping out the local economy (although I don’t have a source to cite for this info).



The numbering below corresponds with the numbers in the ‘Order of Events’ section above.

  1. “Hiding beneath the surface of the ocean offshore of Virginia Beach is a coral. The Northern Star Coral, or Astrangia poculata, makes its home not only here in Virginia, but also along coastlines from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to Cape Cod. The Northern Star Coral needs hard bottom structure to survive, which explains why you can find it all over shipwrecks off the coast of Virginia.”
  2. “One such example is the wreck of the JB Eskridge, a tugboat that lies under 70 ft. of water approximately 13 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. The conditions at this site are often poor, with large waves and poor visibility beneath the surface a common occurrence. Even so, the Northern Star Coral exists happily on the deck of the JB Eskridge.”
  3. “Although the Northern Star Coral is in fact a coral, it does not build reefs like its close relatives that form tropical coral reefs. There are no bright colored fish darting among coral heads and sea fans. Instead, when diving on the JB Eskridge, I am welcomed only by the occasional fish or spider crab.”
  4. “The Northern Star Coral, just like tropical corals, is an interesting combination of many different organisms living together. The coral animal, a relative of the jellyfish, secretes a calcium carbonate skeleton that you may have found washed up on the beach. The skeleton provides a home for the individual coral animals, called polyps, and protects them from predation. The coral animal can capture food out of the water column using its tentacles, but it also gets food from another source. Within the tissue of the coral animal lives tiny symbiotic algae, or Symbiodinium. These algae photosynthesize and share the sugars produced in this process with its host. Both partners of this symbiosis benefit, as the coral gets food and in return the algae gets a safe place to live.

*I have stopped here to get some feedback on the dialogue so far as well as on the organization of the video. I want the dialogue to be informative, but not too technical, and I hope that I have accomplished that here.

Project Proposal


Sea surface temperature (SST) increases due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are causing a decline in the health of marine ecosystems worldwide―including both temperate and tropical coral habitats (Hoegh-Guldberg & Bruno 2010). Although the effects of rising SST on tropical corals have been well explored (Barshis et al. 2010; Castillo et al. 2014), corals inhabiting temperate hard bottom ecosystems, for example off the coast of Virginia, remain understudied. Sea surface warming has been more prominent in the North Atlantic compared to other ocean basins (Rhein et al. 2013); hence the need to understand how temperate corals will respond to SST increases is urgent. Along with rising ocean temperatures, rapid population growth and human activities in coastal watersheds have caused increased stress within coastal waters globally. Human development along coastal watersheds has increased nutrient loading leading to eutrophication, which, along with sedimentation, has modified primary and secondary production and altered the trophic structure of temperate coastal ecosystems (Gilbert et al. 2014; Paerl et al. 2003; Paerl et al. 2006).

For my masters work, I am studying Astrangia poculata, the Northern Star Coral, because it is a temperate species and its environment is experiencing significant changes in primary and secondary production coupled with increased SST (Paerl et al. 2003; Gilbert et al. 2014; Rhein et al. 2013). A. poculata is a temperate scleractinian coral widely distributed from the northwestern Atlantic to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico (Dimond and Carrington 2008; Kaplan 1988). A. poculata is an important member of the temperate hard bottom community, which provides shelter and habitat for juvenile fish and other invertebrates and also supports various commercially and recreationally important species (Kennish 1999; Deaton, Chappell et al. 2010). A. poculata is also dominant on Mid-Atlantic shipwrecks (up to 75% cover in some areas; D. Barshis pers. observation). These wrecks are a key resource for local fisherman and SCUBA diving operators along the Virginia coast. A. poculata can survive with (symbiotic) and without (aposymbiotic) their symbiotic algae and is thus termed facultatively symbiotic (Dimond and Carrington 2008). The response of corals with facultative symbioses to climate change is understudied, making the study species unique. The trophic ecology of temperate corals may be more complicated than that of tropical corals (obligate symbiosis) and little is understood of the physiological changes to carbon acquisition in A. poculata when bleached. This highlights the importance of understanding how facultatively symbiotic corals like A. poculata could change their methods of obtaining carbon under thermal stress. Understanding A. poculata’s response to temperature stress will allow us to predict how benthic hard bottom ecosystems may shift in the face of a changing climate and will help inform environmental management decisions for hard bottom ecosystems in Virginia and the Southeastern United States.

Project Description

My outreach product will be a video that introduces the viewer to corals off the coast of Virginia, specifically my study species (Astrangia poculata, Northern Star Coral) and the goals of my research. The video will start with the process of getting out to my study site, which is 13 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach at the Chesapeake Light Tower. After taking the viewer out to my site, I will take them underwater to the shipwrecks that A. poculata calls home. I will include footage of collecting the corals, as well as the process of collecting other data at my sites such as temperature and light levels. The video will follow the field work process all the way back to the lab, and demonstrate how I maintain corals in aquaria at Old Dominion University. I will finish up with some details about my masters project and what I hope to learn from my experiments.

I plan to utilize a mix of footage taken in the field as well as photographs and potentially cartoons to illustrate the main points of my research. For example, I plan to communicate to viewers the basic idea of what a coral is by pausing the video on an image of a coral in the field, and then overlay the image with a cartoon demonstrating that a coral is a plant, animal, and rock all rolled into one. Along with communicating this in the video, I plan to bring coral specimens with me to the Virginia Aquarium during outreach events to physically show visitors the different aspects of a coral.

I traveled out to my site earlier this week and already have some wonderful footage to include in this video! The visibility was very poor, but I think it will be a great way to demonstrate the difficulties of field work to the viewer.

Desired Impact

As the outreach component of my Virginia Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellowship, I have partnered with the educators at the Virginia Aquarium to communicate my research. I therefore want to make this video a product that the Virginia Aquarium will be able to utilize, even after I am no longer a graduate student at ODU. The target audience for this video will be the many visitors to the aquarium. In communicating with the public about my research on temperate corals, I have been surprised that few people are aware that there are corals off the coast of Virginia. I hope that this video will serve to inform the public about corals in their own backyard, and even though I can’t physically take the Virginia Aquarium visitors underwater with me, I hope to make them feel like they have experienced this environment, and therefore help them to feel connected to it and want to protect it.

I have already planned several outreach events with the Virginia Aquarium at which I can show this video. This includes a program called Lunch and Learn, which is lunchtime event with the aquarium docents and provides me the opportunity to teach those who will then teach many others about my research and Virginia corals. I will also be working with the Mentoring Young Scientists program and talking with young, aspiring scientists about my work.


Literature Cited

Deaton A., Chappell W., Hart K., O’Neal J. & Boutin B. (2010). North Carolina Coastal Habitat Protection Plan. In: (ed. North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources DoMF) Morehead City, North Carolina, pp. 424-426.

Dimond, J. and E. Carrington (2008). Symbiosis regulation in a facultatively symbiotic temperate coral: zooxanthellae division and expulsion. Coral Reefs 27(3): 601-604.

Paerl H.W. (2006). Assessing and managing nutrient-enhanced eutrophication in estuarine and coastal waters: Interactive effects of human and climatic perturbations. Ecological Engineering, 26, 40-54.

Paerl H.W., Valdes L.M., Pinckney J., Piehler M., Dyble J. & Moisander P. (2003). Phytoplankton photopigments as indicators of estuarine and coastal eutrophication. Biosciences, 53, 953 – 964.

Hoegh-Guldberg O. & Bruno J.F. (2010). The impact of climate change on the World’s marine ecosystems. Science, 328, 1523-1528.

Barshis D.J., Stillman J.H., Gates R.D., Toonen R.J., Smith L.W. & Birkeland C. (2010). Protein expression and genetic structure of the coral Porites lobata in an environmentally extreme Samoan back reef: does host genotype limit phenotypic plasticity? Molecular Ecology, 19, 1705-1720.

Castillo K.D., Ries J.B., Bruno J.F. & Westfield I.T. (2014). The reef-building coral Siderastrea siderea exhibits parabolic responses to ocean acidification and warming. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281.

Rhein M., Rintoul S.R., Aoki S., Campos E., Chambers D., Feely R.A., Gulev S., Johnson G.C., S.A. J., Kostianoy A., Mauritzen C., Roemmich D., Talley L.D. & Wang F. (2013). Observations: Ocean. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In: (ed. Stocker TF, D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgle) Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Gilbert M.G., Hinkle D.C., Sturgis B., Jesien, R.V. (2014). Eutrophication of a Maryland/Virginia Coastal Lagoon: a Tipping Point, Ecosystem Changes and Potential Causes. Estuaries and Coasts, 37.

Kaplan EH. (1988). A field guide to southeastern and Caribbean seashores: Cape Hatteras to the Gulf coast, Florida, and the Caribbean. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, MA. USA. 425 pp.

Kennish MJ. (1999). Estuary Restoration and Maintenance: The National Estuary Program. CRC Press, 376 pp.