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Matlacha Civic Association meeting

By Staff | Jan 27, 2015

The Matlacha Civic Association meets once a month in the Art’s building at Matlacha Park. For last Wednesday’s meeting Kathy Malone scheduled Lee County Parks and Recreation director David Harner to appear before the people of Matlacha.

The topics to be discussed included “an interesting history of how Matlacha Park was created by the residents of Matlacha and donated to the county.” The County Park representative (Harner) was to present information on the new Pinewood Trails Park on Pine Island, as well as any new developments with Phillips Park pool and tennis facility, also on Pine Island.

Harner would also answer any questions or contemplated changed to Matlacha Park.

Unfortunately, Mr. Harner was unable to attend that meeting. Ms. Malone, looking for someone to speak, remembered a woman she met some time ago, “by accident.” Maija Gadient has been living on Sirenia Vista Park in Cape Coral since 1996 and because of her concern about the welfare of Florida’s manatees has become known as the “Manatee Lady.” The park is located at the corners of Ceitus Parkway and Old Burnt Store Rd.

“I am from Switzerland and I came here with my husband in 1996 to live in a sunny, warm climate during the winters. We stayed at a bed and breakfast and the owners said, “come with me I want to show you something.” Well, there were hundreds of manatees in the Sirenia Vista waters and since then I have loved the manatees.”

“I went up to Sarasota to the Mote Marine Laboratory to take courses and learn about manatees and dolphins,” Gadient said. “I learned to take care of the stranded dolphins. There were tanks and I was allowed to do three hours of my shift counting details for the laboratory. And I was allowed one hour in the water with the dolphins. My first dolphin was so sick we had to carry him to help him to breathe. I became a volunteer and learned so much working with the biologists about the manatees.”

“Manatees are mammals and need to breathe,” Gadient said. “They can stay under water for 2 or 3 minutes and up to 25 minutes. Their closest relative is the elephant. They have the same skin, the same whiskers and the same 4 legs. But evolution has caused the hind legs of the manatees to disappear. Scientists believe that 17 million years ago the elephants and the manatees were eating grass together on land. Then the manatees went into the water.”

Gadient brought skeletons of the manatees flippers to pass around to the group. Gadient had examples of rib bones, jaw bones and flippers. The manatee flipper skeleton looks very much like the human hand with 5 fingers and finger nails.

“One of the hazards our manatees face is boaters going too fast,” Gadient said. “Another is the crab traps. Two days ago there was a manatee at Manatee Park with a crab trap rope wrapped around him. The girls from Fish and Wildlife had been trying to save this manatee and drove several times from Charlotte Harbor to rescue this animal. Yesterday they finally caught him and took the rope off of him and released him. He swam away happy.”

“We also have a problem with boaters going too fast,” Gadient said. “When the manatees hear the boats coming the dive deeper but sometimes are injured by the propeller. There are propeller guards people can buy but most do not. If they would only slow down we would have a lot less injured manatees.”

Sirenia Vista Park in an 8 acre environmental park where you can easily see manatees, especially in the cooler months, as well as great fishing throughout the year. Recent developments of the park has included a kayak launch area, manatee viewing locations, a walking path and landscape improvements. The kayak launch allows kayakers access to the Calusa Blueway thru Matlacha.

Chocolate manatee lollypops were provided by C.W. Fudge Factory.