full profile

David Obura, PhD, MBS


Coral reefs are iconic, yet local to global pressures on them are worsening, and taking them to the brink of collapse. Reaching out to non-scientists and the public is essential to create the change needed for sustainability. David has contributed in multiple fora such as The Conversation Africa, the Guardian/Observer, major TV (South African Broadcasting Company, Al Jazheera, BBC) and film (e.g. Vamizi, Cradle of Coral; Chasing Coral; Blue in Focus).

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. CORDIO takes research to management and policy, builds capacity, and works with stakeholders, managers and policy makers. David’s primary research is on coral reef resilience, in particular to climate change, and the biogeography of the Indian Ocean.

At the boundary between science and action, David works to integrate conservation and development through inclusive blue economy principles and links provided by global sustainability goals and targets. He works from the local scale, through fostering innovative action to promote sustainability, through regional scale alignment and integration, to global scales, bringing knowledge and local-regional practice into decision-making contexts. David serves on the Earth Commission (2019-2022), contributing to describing a ‘safe and just corridor’ into the future, for people and planet.

Work with the Earth Commission,
Global Commons Alliance, Future Earth

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Mid-2022 – ongoing work on global science-policy processes – biodiversity, coral reefs, climate, sustainability.


Moran of the Burning Spear, December 2021 – awarded by Kenya’s President, for work on ocean sustainability issues in national and international fora.

Coral Reef Conservation Award, 2022 – awarded by the International Coral Reef Society, in recognition of a regionally or globally significant contribution to the protection of coral reefs.

Fellow, Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, 2007.

online profiles
expert groups
  • Chair, IPBES – https://ipbes.net/nexus.
  • Lead Negotiator (Oceans), Kenya delegation to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP 26, Glasgow  November 2021.
  • IPBES/IPCC Workshop report on biodiversity and climate change, November 2020-May 2021. Report
  • Earth Commission, Global Commons Alliance/Future Earth – https://earthcommission.org/
  • High Level Panel on Ocean Sustainability – Technical Working Group (Kenya) and Science Advisory Network.
  • IUCN Coral Specialist Group (chair) (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) – https://www.coralspecialistgroup.org/
  • IPBES Global Assessment – Coordinating Lead Author, Chapter 2: Nature subsection
  • National Geographic Explorer. Updating the global coral Red List of Threatened Species
  • Informal Advisory Group (IAG), Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas, CBD Secretariat
  • GOOS Biodiversity and Ecosystems Panel (Global Ocean Observing System, UNESCO-IOC)
  • GCRMN – Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, Technical development and coordination
  • bioDISCOVERY (Steering Committee)
  • Northern Mozambique Channel – Core Team/Strategic Advisor
  1. Obura, DO. (2021) Bringing the Sustainable Development Goals to life through stories. Current Conservation 15.2 (online; illustrations by Parul Sinha).
  2. Obura, D, Katerere, Y, Mayet, M, Kaelo, D, et al. Integrating biodiversity targets from local to global levels (2021). Science vol. 373:746-748, DOI: 10.1126/science.abh2234.
  3. Pörtner H-O, Scholes RJ, Agard J, et al (2021) IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop report on biodiversity and climate https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo. 5101133
  4. Bennett NJ, Katz L, Yadao – Evans W, et al. (2021) Advancing Social Equity in and Through Marine Conservation. Front. Mar. Sci. 8:711538. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2021.711538
  5. Nicholson, E., Watermeyer, K.E., Rowland, J.A., et al. (2021) Scientific foundations for an ecosystem goal, milestones and indicators for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework Nature Ecology and Evolution,  doi:10.1038/s41559-021-01538-5.
  6. Rockström J, Gupta J, Lenton TM, et al (2021) Identifying a safe and just corridor for people and the planet. Earth’s Future. https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EF001866
  7. Díaz S, Zafra-Calvo N, Purvis A, et al (2020) Set ambitious goals for biodiversity and sustainability. Science 370:411–413. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abe1530
  8. Obura, D.O. (2020) Getting to 2030 – scaling effort to ambition through a narrative model of the SDGs. Marine Policy 117: 103973.
  9. Rogers Alex D., et al. (2020) Critical Habitats and Biodiversity: Inventory, Thresholds and Governance. Blue Paper 10, High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean. www.oceanpanel.org
  10. Díaz S, Settele J, Brondízio ES, Ngo HT, Agard J et al. (2019) Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for profound change. Science 366, eaax3100: 1-10
  11. Obura DO, et al. (2019) Coral Reef Monitoring, Reef Assessment Technologies, and Ecosystem-Based Management. Mar. Sci. 6:580. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00580
  12. McLeod E., Anthony K.R.N., Mumby P.J., Maynard J., Beeden R., Graham N.A.J., Heron S.F., Hoegh-Guldberg O., Jupiter S., MacGowan P., Mangubhai S., Marshall N., Marshall P.A., McClanahan T.R., Mcleod K., Nyström M., Obura D.O., Parker B., possingham H.P., Salm R.V., & Tamelander J. (2019) The future of resilience-based management in coral reef ecosystem Journal of Environmental Management, 233, 291–301
  13. Popova E., Vousden D., Sauer W.H.H., Mohammed E.Y., Allain V., Downey-Breedt N., Fletcher R., Gjerde K.M., Halpin P.N., Kelly S., Obura D.O., Pecl G., Roberts M., Raitsos D.E., Rogers A., Samoilys M., Sumaila U.R., Tracey S., & Yool A. (2019) Ecological connectivity between the areas beyond national jurisdiction and T coastal waters: Safeguarding interests of coastal communities in developing countries. Marine Policy, 104, 90–102.
  14. Obura, D.O. The Three Horses of Sustainability—Population, Affluence and Technology. Preprints2018, 2018120176 (doi: 10.20944/preprints201812.0176.v1)
  15. Obura, DO (2018) Ocean health in the blue economy. In: A Handbook on the Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean Region. Editor: Prof VN Attri. Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), ESRC/S Africa.
  16. Obura D, et al. (2018) East and southern Africa – coastal and ocean futures. Northern Mozambique Channel initiative (WWF/CORDIO), www.wiofutures.net.
  17. Obura, DO (2017) Refilling the coral reef glass. Science 357 (6357): 1215 DOI: 10.1126/science.aao5002
  18. Obura, DO et al. Reviving the Western Indian Ocean Economy: Implementing the SDGs to sustain a healthy ocean economy.  WWF International/Boston Consulting Group/CORDIO.
  19. Obura DO, et al. (2017) The Northern Mozambique Channel – a capitals approach to a Blue Economy future. In: Handbook on the Economics and Management for Sustainable Oceans. Editors: Svansson LE, Nunes PALD, Kumar P & Markandya A. Edward Elgar Publishing.
  20. Costello M.J., et al. (2016) Methods for the Study of Marine Biodiversity. The GEO Handbook on Biodiversity Observation Networks (ed. by M. Walters and R.J. Scholes), pp. 129–163. Springer.
  21. Obura, DO (2017), An Indian Ocean centre of origin revisited: Palaeogene and Neogene influences defining a biogeographic realm. Journal of Biogeography. 43:229–242 doi: 10.1111/jbi.12656
  22. Freestone, D. et al. (2016) World Heritage in the High Seas: An Idea Whose Time Has Come. World Heritage Centre reports, #44, United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization. 79 pp.
  23. Sale PF, & 24 others. (2014) Transforming management of tropical coastal seas to cope with challenges of the 21st century. Marine Pollution Bulletin: 1–16. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2014.06.005
  24. Hoegh-Guldberg O. et al. (2013) Indispensable Ocean. Aligning ocean health and human well-being. Guidance from the Blue Ribbon Panel to the Global Partnership for Oceans
  25. Obura, DO (2012) The diversity and biogeography of Western Indian Ocean reef-building corals. PLOS ONE. 1371/0045013.
  26. Obura DO. (2009) Reef corals bleach to resist stress. Marine Pollution Bulletin 58:206-212. DOI 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2008.10.002
  27. Carpenter KE, et al. (2008). One-Third of Reef-Building Corals Face Elevated Extinction Risk from Climate Change and Local Impacts. Science 321: 560-563
  28. Obura DO (2005) Resilience and climate change – lessons from coral reefs and bleaching in the Western Indian Ocean. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science 603: 353-372.