Mary J. Ratnaswamy is originally from St. Paul, Minnesota. She completed her B.A. in Biology at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. She did an independent study in a mangrove estuary in Costa Rica for her senior thesis. Her experiences in Costa Rica led to strong interest in marine and coastal ecosystems, as well as marine mammal and sea turtle conservation. After graduation, Mary worked at the Illinois Natural History Survey, and then went back to school to obtain a M.S. in Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. Her Master’s work focused on population dynamics of fin whales along the Atlantic coast. After obtaining her Master’s degree, Mary returned to Costa Rica to work at the Green Turtle Research Station in Tortuguero. Mary subsequently worked for NOAA for five years, including conducting fisheries and bathymetric surveys in Alaska, Hawaii and California, and then oceanographic current research in the Caribbean.
After some additional work on marine mammals in Greenland, Mary went back to graduate school for her Ph.D. in Forest Resources (Wildlife Ecology and Management) at the University of Georgia. She was awarded a grant to work with the National Park Service on an important management and conservation problem: raccoon depredation of sea turtle nests. This research topic combined her interests in mammalian predator ecology and sea turtle conservation.
Mary took a position as Assistant Professor at University of Missouri-Columbia immediately after obtaining her Ph.D. She advised graduate students as well as taught undergraduate and graduate courses for several years until leaving her academic position to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Annapolis, MD. She was Supervisor of the Endangered Species Program at the Chesapeake Bay Field Office for eight years, with a special focus on recovery of the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel. In 2008, Mary transferred to USGS/Patuxent Research Wildlife Center, as Research Manager for Migratory Birds, Coastal and Wetlands, and Ecosystems.
In 2012, Mary was selected as the first Federal Director of the DOI Northeast Climate Science Center . She works with the University Director of the Northeast CSC to build this unique federal/university partnership. Her work contributes to the overall strategic mission of the USGS, which is to provide the actionable science needed by natural and cultural resource managers facing the impacts of climate change and other major environmental issues. In addition to her administration of this collaborative science program, Mary continues her interests in mammalian ecology and conservation through advising students working on mammals in boreal landscapes experiencing the effects of climate change.
"I have always loved nature and animals. From an early age, I would stay outdoors as long as I could, wandering the woods and streams around our home, when suburbs had more untamed areas. I would do my best to catch wildlife, wanting a closer look. The beauty in the wild speaks both to my intellectual interests, and the need to connect to something larger than myself. In science and particularly biology, and with the help of wonderful teachers and mentors, I found a way to express and channel these interests. It has been a goal of mine to do what I can to support this excitement and enthusiasm in others as well."