Nonprofit fishery suffers double blow from Florida cold snap, Haiti earthquake

DADE CITY — Busy signals. Phones that ring forever. Unanswered e-mails.

At Morning Star Fishermen, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting world hunger with aquaponics, it's an agonizing waiting game to reach contacts in Haiti. A devastating earthquake rocked the Caribbean nation on Tuesday, leaving thousands dead.

"Hopefully God is with them," said Hans Geissler, 68.

Geissler started Morning Star 17 years ago in an effort to build self-sustaining aquaponic tanks in developing countries. The group has three tanks that feed thousands in Haiti.

In the matter of a week, Mother Nature has dealt the nonprofit two cruel blows: The cold snap in Florida killed thousands of fish at the Dade City facility, and now the earthquake has devastated one of the countries that Morning Star strives to feed.

With reports of food scarce in Haiti, Morning Star is trying to reach their contacts not just to find out if everyone is safe, but also to make sure the tanks are functioning and able to feed the children.

"We feel so helpless," Geissler said.

Students come from around the world to learn at Morning Star's aquaponics training center on Old Saint Joe Road in Dade City.

In a typical setup, a large reservoir is filled with tilapia and the water is filtered by vegetables that thrive on the fish waste.

Geissler's organization has built more than 100 tanks throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, where he said the tanks can easily be replenished by fish from nearby rivers and streams.

In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Morning Star constructed tanks at two orphanages and one mission for homeless children. Geissler said the tanks feed thousands.

Earlier this week, a magnitude 7 earthquake left millions of Haitians without power, water or housing. Bodies line the streets. Medical care is limited. Officials fear the death toll could reach into the tens of thousands.

Geissler and his crew have been able to reach only one orphanage in Fond Parisien, about 20 miles east of the capitol Port-au-Prince.

The building suffered only minor damage in the quake, but the emotional toll is immeasurable.

"They're frightened because of all the aftershocks," said Barbara Arthur, Morning Star executive director. "The children already have no family. It's pretty scary for them."

It is also too early to estimate the impact of the loss at the Dade City facility from the recent freeze. Geissler said the cold snap killed all the fish in the 20 tanks outside, about half of their total.

"I can't count until they start floating," he said. "All the fish right now, they're hurt."

Geissler's strong foundation in faith led him to start his mission. Now, he said it's helping him deal with the loss of his own fish and the suffering he sees in Haiti.

"Everything is in God's hands," he said. "And I'm not questioning God."

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

To learn more about Morning Star Fisherman, visit www.morningstarfishermen.org or call (352) 523-2722.

Nonprofit fishery suffers double blow from Florida cold snap, Haiti earthquake 01/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 9:47pm]

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