ThinkSpatial: David Obura & James Mbugua

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Coral reef and coastal sustainability to 2030 and beyond—thinking spatially in coastal East Africa

Dr. David Obura & Mr. James Mbugua

CORDIO East Africa

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Abstract: Coasts and oceans are under increasing pressure as population and economies grow, and push our planet into the Anthropocene, which means living beyond the planet’s limits of regeneration from local to global scales. In this context, all terrestrial and marine spaces may be impacted, and spatial planning has become a necessary framework within which all human activities need to be planned—including those intended to safeguard nature. On developing country coastlines, natural and societal systems are increasingly exposed to increasing local and global pressures, while low levels of development and prevailing poverty mean that populations are highly vulnerable.

We present some case studies on spatial aspects of coastal sustainability, with a focus on coral reefs:

  • Using biodiversity observation networks to report on coral reef health and supply decision-support indicators for ecosystem extent and integrity, relevant to current discussions on monitoring new global biodiversity goals to 2050;
  • Assessing the vulnerability of the built coastline in the port city of Mombasa, associated with geomorphological change and socio-economic vulnerability to better determine exposed populations and locations at risk;
  • Broadening the focus of conservation planning to ‘shared spaces’ where people live and depend on nature, for a new paradigm to integrate global biodiversity and sustainable development targets.


Dr. David Obura is a Founding Director of CORDIO East Africa, a knowledge organization supporting sustainability of coral reef and marine systems in the Western Indian Ocean.

David’s primary research is on coral reef resilience, in particular to climate change, and the biogeography of the Indian Ocean, and recently expanding this to sustainability science based on coral reefs as a model.

Mr. James Mbugua is a GIS specialist and a Project manager at CORDIO East Africa. He is involved in the spatial analysis and interpretation of Earth Observation data to address environmental challenges facing local communities in the Western Indian Ocean.

The objective of the ThinkSpatial Forum is to exchange ideas about spatial perspectives in research and teaching, broaden communication and cooperation across disciplines among faculty and graduate students, and encourage the sharing of tools and concepts.