Nancy Foster Geraci, 59, coast conservation champion

June 29, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Nancy Foster Geraci, a marine biologist who championed conservation of coastal aquatic life and the health of the Chesapeake Bay, died Tuesday of a brain tumor at her home in Otterbein in South Baltimore. She was 59.

A biological oceanographer, Mrs. Geraci was known for her strong conservation ethic.

She created a federal office within the National Marine Fisheries Service and charged it with safeguarding the health of he Chesapeake Bay. She also established a network of federal agencies to deal with stranded whales and dolphins.

In 1997, Mrs. Geraci was named assistant administrator for oceanic services and coastal zone management at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Before then, she was an official of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"In her thinking, she was a science-based conservationist who relied heavily upon scientific fact in making her decisions," said John R. Twiss Jr., a friend who directs the Marine Mammal Commission in Bethesda.

"She understood the importance of marine ecosystems and their conservation and the need to consider the interdependent role played by organisms in marine ecosystems," Twiss said.

This year, the Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environmental Center at Key West was named in her honor.

In an April letter to Mrs. Geraci, Vice President Al Gore wrote, "You have pioneered an impressive national strategy for environmental management and served as an outstanding role model for women scientists across America."

Gore also cited her work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "You have brought ... a quality and strength unequaled in its history," he wrote.

In the 1990s, Mrs. Geraci worked on federal guidelines to protect coastal fish habitats from pollution and over-fishing.

"She was also a passionate advocate of equal rights in the work place," said her husband, Joseph R. Geraci, senior director of biological programs at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. "She worked for women's issues and diversity."

The couple married this year.

Born in Electra, Texas, Mrs. Geraci was a graduate of Texas Women's College, Texas Christian University and George Washington University, where she received her doctorate in marine biology.

She began her federal career in 1977 with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

From 1986 through 1993, she was director of the National Marine Fisheries Service's office of protected resources. While there, she received accolades from conservationists for her measures to protect Snake River salmon and winter-run chinook salmon.

In 1993, she received the U.S. Department of Commerce gold medal - its highest award - for "leadership in providing stewardship of the nation's living marine resources."

In the 1970s, she was chairperson of the biology department at Dunbarton College in Washington.

A memorial service for Mrs. Geraci is pending.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her mother, Evelyn Foster, and her sister, Judy Foster, both of Arlington, Va.

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