Home Articles Coastal Spatial Data Infrastructure (CSDI): African requirements and responses

Coastal Spatial Data Infrastructure (CSDI): African requirements and responses

L. Celliers
Oceanographic Research Institute, Durban, South Africa
[email protected]

R.A. Longhorn
Info-Dynamics Research Associates Ltd, Bredene, Belgium
[email protected]

K. Lance
International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation,
Enschede, the Netherlands
[email protected]

M. Odido
OdinAfrica, Nairobi, Kenya
[email protected]

The term Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) refers to a collection of fundamental geospatial technologies, policies and institutional arrangements that encourages and improves the availability, access and exploitation of spatial data. An SDI provides a framework for spatial data discovery, evaluation, and application for users and providers within all levels of government, the commercial as well as the non-profit sector, academia and individuals in civil society. Conceptually, information infrastructure, and thus SDI, is a logical extension to other infrastructure necessary for ongoing development, such as transportation, telecommunication networks, health and education. As such, the drivers for SDIs have always been national governments, as reflected in various government decrees regarding creation of national SDIs (NSDI). However, most attempts at creating an SDI at national level have yet to be fully implemented. At regional level, even less has been achieved in creating true infrastructure and globally, the main focus has been on community building, consensus building, creating vision, and defining overall strategy and goals (Longhorn 2003a). In the authors’ opinion, this is also a true reflection of the status quo of SDI in Africa at both national and regional levels.

Several nations are also engaged in the development of specific coastal zone SDI (CSDI) components in their national SDI plans (Longhorn 2003a, b). Coastal managers and researchers know that the coastal zone is a difficult and complex area to manage due to the overlapping of offshore, near-shore, shoreline and inshore physical geography, hydrography and bathymetry, as well as jurisdictional and organisational overlaps. A wide variety of local, national and regional agencies are responsible for the different physical areas and uses of the coastal zone, e.g. fisheries, environment, agriculture, transport (inland and marine), urban planning, national mapping and the hydrographic service. Due to the high economic value of coastal and marine activities, and to the social value of coastal zones for quality of life, managing the coastal zone is a key component of the socio-economic framework in most nations with coastlines.

This paper provides an overview of the status of CSDI in Africa. It briefly introduces CSDI initiatives worldwide and then summarizes existing coastal and marine efforts in Africa that are addressing data management issues to varying degrees. Next, the paper proposes the development, jointly by both the government and private sector, of a thematic information framework for the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Actors in the region already have a high level of understanding of the complex network of which they are part, spanning both administrative boundaries and inland, coastal, and marine interfaces. Furthermore, coastal stakeholders tend to be innovative in their planning and decision-making, marrying science and management. Thus, a coastal SDI effort may prove to be enlightening to all SDI initiatives.

The status of CSDIs elsewhere
Currently, only a few examples exist of the development of specified SDIs for individual sectors such as the coastal zone, the most notable being the United States CSDI, led by the Coastal Services Centre of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a marine information data ‘partnership’ (MDIP) (IACMST, 2006; Cotton, 2006) launched in the United Kingdom, a Canadian MGDI (marine geospatial data infrastructure) (Gillespi, et al, 2000), and marine boundary and cadastre initiatives in Australia. At the regional level, various projects exist within Europe which are developing potentially useful components of a marine or coastal SDI (Jonkers, 2006; Longhorn, 2005; MOTIIVE, 2006), yet there is no single vision or strategy for implementing such a thematic SDI within the regional generic SDI initiative, INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe). At the global level, components of a marine SDI exist within programmes such as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s IODE (International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange) Project, but the coastal information elements of such programmes are not well developed (Longhorn, 2003c). Oceans 21 – GIS for Coastal Management and Coastal Education, a cooperative programme of the IOC and IGU (International Geographical Union), contains a research theme that focuses on extending national, regional and global SDIs from onshore to offshore (Green et al, 2004).

Regional initiatives
Furthermore, Africa is currently embarking on creating national, regional and continental scale SDIs and geographic data standards and priority data areas are being defined by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) GeoInformation Team ) and EIS-Africa (Environmental Information Systems – Africa), as discussed in their joint document Fundamental Geospatial Data Sets for Africa, Chapter 2 “Determination of the Fundamental Geospatial Datasets for Africa through a User Needs Analysis – A Synthesis Report” (Schwabe et al. 2006). The importance of coastlines seems to be recognised even though an EIS e-mail user needs survey did not place coastline data high on the priority list (scored 20th, with a weighted score of 0.625 in a list of 23 datasets with weighted score measurements ranging between a high of 2.750 and a low of 0.625). However, the relatively low ranking of ‘coastline’ in this survey could simply reflect the audience who participated in the survey by EIS-Africa and mimics a similar experience in Europe, when neither hydrography nor coastlines were going to be considered as part of the ‘core’ spatial data requirement for Europe – simply because there were no ‘experts’ with marine or coastal experience sitting on the expert panel at the time the initial lists were being constructed (in the EU-funded ETEMII Project in 2000).

Regionally a number of initiatives are relevant and would benefit from an understanding of the potential of CSDI. These include Ocean Data and Information Network for Africa (ODINAFRICA; , TRANSMAP (https://www.transmap.fc.ul.pt/), Western Indian Ocean Fisheries Database (WIOFISH; , WIO-Lab (https://www.wiolab.org/) and many others.

Two regional initiatives deserve special mention for different reasons, viz. the TRANSMAP project and ODINAFRICA.

The TRANSMAP project, funded by the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Union (EU) initiated in January 2005 and set to conclude in December 2007, is a good example of a regional initiative that would have benefited from an existing regional CSDI. Some of the first tasks identified in the project brief were the collection of data and information sources, the compilation of a basic GIS platform that included layers of coastal use, and the publication of all the compiled information in such a way as to satisfy the strict European Commission requirements for the availability of information generated by publicly funded projects. Even though the geospatial information requirements for this project were a major component of the overall goal and were to serve as the basis for the creation of new information, data handling, collecting and archiving received limited attention in the project proposal and work package plans and, concomitantly, limited funding. This, in combination with the existing paucity of coastal and marine geospatial data, as well as the difficulty in accessing the limited available data, highlighted the potential benefits of a regional CSDI. The project did however produce a web-based metadata and information system for information relevant to transboundary marine protected areas ), but the challenges are to ensure data interoperability and institutional linkages to other regional information infrastructures such as ODINAFRICA (https://www.odinafrica.net/). This would significantly increase the return on investment in data collection, avoid duplication and ensure the longevity and wider use of information resources.

The Ocean Data and Information Network for Africa (ODINAFRICA) was initiated in 2000 and brings together forty (40) marine related institutions from twenty five (25) Member States of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO from Africa. The network has assisted the Member States to establish and operate National Oceanographic Data and Information centres, and in particular: to get access to data available in other data centres, develop skills for manipulation of data and preparation of data and information products, and develop infrastructure for archival, analysis and dissemination of the data and information products. Each of the participating institutions has developed a suite of data and information products that have been quality controlled, merged and availed through project website (www.odinafrica.net). These include: Directories of marine and freshwater professionals, Catalogues of marine related data sets, Marine Species data bases, library catalogues, catalogue of marine related publications from/about Africa. The ODINAFRICA Marine Atlas Project (OMAP) is of particular relevance to the development of a regional CSDI. The purpose of OMAP is to identify, collect and organize available geospatial datasets into an atlas of environmental themes for Africa. OMAP will include and involve a number of other atlas-type projects on and around the African continent. At the present time, the majority of the data layers in the atlas are continental-scale, but the structure of this interface already allows for the inclusions of national- and local-scale layers. Extensive cross-referencing between the data folders will insure that users are constantly presented with all layers at all scales. The first version of the atlas will be ready in December 2006. The current phase of ODINAFRICA ends in June 2008, which is funded by the government of Flanders, Belgium will conclude in June 2008. The next phase could focus on development of products from the information in the atlas, and more detailed atlases for the different sub-regions.

The varied initiatives summarized in the previous section could benefit from a pilot activity focusing on the development, by both the government and private sector, of a thematic information framework viz. coastal and marine SDI in the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), and within the legal boundaries and requirements stipulated by the existing national SDI Act (Act no.54 of 2003, see below). Not only should this SDI be compliant in terms of the national spirit of the law but should also be integrated into regional strategies to demonstrate the viability and benefit of SDIs for their contribution towards the integrated coastal zone management of the east coast of Africa, a region presenting abundant challenges in terms of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM). The pilot activity would provide ‘testing ground’ for CSDI and would provide insights for similar efforts up the coast.

This activity is proposed with enabling conditions in mind for the creation of a CSDI in KZN and the east Africa region. These conditions include the identification of the need for common services, an institutional framework conducive to provision of common services, the availability of enabling technologies and the development of a suitable financial investment model. Possibly the most important enabling condition for the creation of a provincial CSDI for KZN is the enactment of both the Promotion of Access to Information Act (No. 2 of 2000, amended No. 54 of 2002) as well as the Spatial Data Infrastructure Act (No. 54 of 2003). These acts respectively intend to: Give effect to the constitutional right of access to any information held by the State and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights; and to provide for matters connected therewith (Act No. 2 of 2000). and to Establish the South African Spatial Data Infrastructure, the Committee for Spatial Information and an electronic metadata catalogue; to provide for the determination of standards and prescriptions with regard to the facilitation of the sharing of spatial information; to provide for the capture and publishing of metadata and the avoidance of duplication of such capture; and to provide for matters connected therewith (Act No. 54 of 2003). The SDI Act was drafted in recognition of the importance of an NSDI and in line with global trends in information infrastructure, while the Act No. 2 of 2000 ensures the enabling thereof. In terms of the challenges facing the fledgling democratic RSA, these acts still need to mature before delivering on their promise. One of the measures implemented to assist with the creation of an NSDI was the establishment of the National Spatial Information Framework (NSIF, , a national initiative to co-ordinate the development of infrastructure needed to support the utilization of spatial information in decision making.

Even though the majority of SDIs are driven by government, many important SDI stakeholders operate in the private sector, as drivers for the development of particularly thematic SDIs, e.g. utilities, road traffic information, mining, agriculture and the coastal and marine communities. While the spatial information needs of many thematic user communities are well met within national SDI objectives and priorities, this is not typically the case with regard to marine or coastal SDI (Longhorn, 2003b).

The need for common services
The 560 km that is the coastline of KZN province, one of four coastal provinces in South Africa, is rich in natural and cultural heritage, harvestable and non-harvestable resources and opportunity for human settlement and development. This province is considered to represent the southern limit of tropical east Africa whilst also exhibiting the uniqueness in biodiversity associated with the transition to a sub-tropical environment. Furthermore ICZM in KZN is at the forefront of the development of innovative coastal management principles and procedures including an increasing awareness and use of spatial information and technologies. Research, management and development as drivers of environmental protection and socio-economic progress of the coastal area of KZN are showing an increasing dependency on geospatially enabled data.

The provision of framework data for the coastal and marine theme in the province of KZN is vested in only a small number of primarily government agencies although there are also contribution from parastatal agencies and the private sector. These include the South African Navy: Hydrographic Office (https://www.sanho.co.za/), the national Deptartment of Land Affairs – Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping (CD: S&M) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research: Satellite Application Centre (https://www.csir.co.za), and a number of private sector and parastatal agencies.

Institutional framework
There is a complex network of agencies and institutions that are considered to be stakeholders in the coastal zone (Figure 1) that, collectively, represent the ICZM landscape of KZN. This network is embodied within a single, focused, and legally mandated multi-stakeholder forum, the Provincial Coastal Committee (PCC).

Figure 1. A network diagram showing the agencies and institutions represented on the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Coastal Committee (PCC) as nodes in a two-dimensional space (taken from Celliers et al, in press).

What is implicit in the figure above is the high level of understanding of the actors and their interaction within the network, and how this understanding, and the PCC as a vehicle for progress, would contribute towards the development of the shared benefit presented by an SDI. The PCC represents a cross-section of spatial information users and producers already organised within a legal framework intended to promote sustainable coastal development, defined as a balance between material prosperity, social development, cultural values, spiritual fulfillment and ecological integrity, in the interests of the current and future generations of this province. This framework is entrenched nationally as well as provincially and the legal mandate for management of this coastal zone is one of the compelling arguments for the development of a coastal SDI, and one that would greatly improve the likelihood of successful implementation. Not only are coastal stakeholders from this province considered to be progressive and innovative in terms of the marriage of science and management, but they also make a significant contribution to the activities in the regional ICZM landscape.

Vision, Strategy and Policy
Experience with land-based SDI initiatives has shown that technical issues, while important and non-trivial, are more easily resolved than are those related to different aspects of information policy and governance. Most SDI initiatives begin with a vision statement developed cooperatively by all identifiable stakeholders. In the case of a CSDI, it is important that land-based stakeholders are included in this group activity, including those who may not appear initially to have a direct stake in coastal environments. The US Commission on Ocean Policy (2004) pointed out that coastal problems often originate or are aggravated by sources originating hundreds of miles inland.

The Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone” is the result of cumulative drainage from the Mississippi–Atchafalaya River Basin, which includes all or parts of thirty states. In addition, atmospheric deposition from agriculture, power plants, industrial facilities, motor vehicles, and other often distant sources accounts for up to 40 percent of the nitrogen entering estuaries.

Following development of a CSDI vision, a formal strategy for implementing the vision is required. Strategy statements typically include sections on:

  • Business drivers (arguments articulating the need for SDI)
  • technological issues, e.g. information standards and data exchange, dissemination, access and exploitation principles;
  • minimum data holding requirements, e.g. ‘core’ data;
  • plans for stakeholder engagement;
  • performance or success criteria (Lance et al. 2006); and
  • proposals for SDI governance structures, e.g. ‘ownership’ of the initiative, coordination plans, reporting and monitoring of success.

A strategy document may includes specification of actions required to implement the strategy. However, it is also common to find staged Implementation Plans enacted over a period of years which implement the strategy, depending upon priorities, availability of funds and developments outside the direct control of the SDI coordinator, e.g. international standards developments, national e-government policy changes, etc. Once an initial strategy has been decided, various policies need to be enacted, sometimes officially, as statutory regulations, as well as less formally, by general agreement amongst stakeholders enacting sensible ‘best practice’.

In the case of a thematic SDI, such as coastal/marine SDI, or a local/regional SDI (sub-national) being created within the framework of an existing national SDI vision and strategy, alignment of strategy and policy between the thematic/non-national SDI and the national SDI is required, since these must co-exist. In many countries and regions, this requires adherence to existing or planned e-government initiatives and programmes, since much of the data underpinning the CSDI will be governmental in nature. Failure to pay attention to this requirement led to serious delays and added cost in the UK in developing their fledgling national SDI, since the original SDI data and metadata requirements were not aligned with official e-government interoperability (e-GIF) and metadata standard (e-GMS) regulations.

Enabling technologies
Enabling technology underpinning an SDI initiative comprises several components, including:

  • metadata standards that adhere to internationally agreed standards, i.e. ISO 19115/19139 and evolving marine metadata profiles of that standard (Reed, 2006),
  • tools for creating and publishing metadata, and discovering data resources, typically via open web services (OWS) architecture and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)-compliant tools adhering to OGC specifications,
  • marine data models that satisfy different communities of practitioners who work in, or are responsible for management of, the coastal zone,
  • formal data specifications for the core and ancillary datasets that are needed to conduct coastal research and support coastal management activities,
  • availability of tools enabling data harmonisation or integration, especially across disciplines, achieved via appropriate interoperability technology, e.g. use of XML schemas and shared models,
  • training in ‘best practice’ use of software tools for publishing metadata and discovering data resources, typically via open web services (OWS) architecture and OGC-compliant tools adhering to Open Geospatial Consortium specifications,
  • establishing marine/coastal information ‘observatories’ (portals) which can act as clearinghouses for multiple types of data, provide information services demonstrators and offer guidance and training in use of software, models and other forms of data interoperability ‘best practice’, such as metadata creation and dissemination.

Note that many of the enabling technology of SDI rely upon other infrastructure components being in place, based on the overall strategy, vision and policies, e.g. human resources training infrastructure and agreed or enforceable data access and exploitation policies.

Financial investment model
Very few national SDIs have received specific implementation funding from government, even following in-depth cost-benefit analyses which showed substantial benefits to the national economy from such an infrastructure. Because a majority of the financial benefits often appear to derive from increased efficiency in operations or enhanced decision-making, SDI implementers are expected to pay for their part of infrastructure creation from existing budgets. This is also cited as one of the reasons that many SDI initiatives have been so slow to achieve their objectives or, in some cases, to even begin implementation of their agreed strategies. In cases in which government (federal level) funding has been made available specifically for SDI programmes, e.g. in Canada and the Netherlands, or via supporting programmes, such as projects funded by the European Union institutions, typically only partial funding is available, usually on a ‘matching funds’ basis. In Canada, which has entered its second round of such funding for another CAN$60 million over 5 years (to 2010), which equates to a minimum of CAN$120 million over 5 years based on matching funding, scores of individual projects have been successfully implemented, each of which contributes to the CGDI.

Much can be learned from the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI) funding programme. Firstly, substantial funding is made available overall, but project funding is limited to the range of CAN$10,000 to CAN$200,000 per project, as 50% (maximum) matching funds for the beneficiary, who “must ensure and demonstrate that at least 50 percent of the GeoConnections funding is awarded to the private sector.” Projects can support three main pillars of the CGDI, i.e. data, services and applications, and are proposed by “Communities of Practice”:

“A group of people who share an interest about a topic (domain), who interact on an ongoing basis, and who accumulate and disseminate knowledge. … a community, or group of users, that shares common concerns or sets of problems, and has common user requirements of the CGDI. … (and) possesses a number of other characteristics … (including) a critical mass of common interests; is organized, or can be organized; will help build awareness; has defined, or definable, needs to which the CGDI can respond; can identify and contribute to setting future CGDI priorities; can foster collaborative arrangements to contribute to the CGDI or develop user applications; has a high impact that can be identified; has an open communication process to define needs within the community or with similar communities.” (GeoConnections, 2005)

In the European Union, implementation of the regional SDI (INSPIRE – Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe) is based on connecting harmonised national SDIs that are built using whatever funding mechanisms apply in each EU Member State. Harmonised implementation standards and regulations that will apply at regional (transnational) level are being developed using funds from other existing EU programmes, such as the framework R&D programme, inter-regional development, information market development and others across a range of European Commission Directorates.

Typically, no funding is made available from central government without an in-depth cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and/or impact assessment being conducted. This is one of the first steps that should be included in an SDI Strategy, regardless of where the funding ultimately arises, i.e. from existing budgets of stakeholders or as new infrastructure funding from treasury. The European Commission conducted the first international workshop focusing specifically on CBA methodologies for SDIs in January 2006 (Craglia & Nowak, 2006) and found that little research has taken place in regard to SDI CBA methodologies, which pose a complex mix of requirements. Much is to be learned from the process of conducting an SDI-level CBA as from the final metrics produced by the analysis itself.

Guiding objectives and conclusions
Having outlined the vision, enabling technologies, and likely financial investment model, it appears that there is a realistic opportunity for the creation of a provincial CSDI demonstration project of this nature. Such an initiative would have three primary objectives:

  • Creation of a functional and mandated coastal SDI for a portion of the east coast of Africa. This would include an integrated and inclusive approach to development, with a measurable and realistic horizon for implementation, facilitated by a healthy interaction between the private sector and government as embodied in the legally mandated KZN Provincial Coastal Committee.
  • Demonstration of the requirements and potential advantages of a coastal SDI within the framework of a national NSDI, with further linkages to integrate with national, regional and global initiatives. Not only should the SDI be fully implemented but also document a scalable and repeatable coastal SDI development process with the greatest likelihood of success for similar initiatives with South Africa as well as elsewhere in the region.
  • Provide integrated information resources that will contribute to the management of the coastal and marine environments both in the province and the region. The SDI also should also address concerns relating to a range of climate change issues that have an impact on both the marine environment and the coastal zone.

The use and availability of geospatial data to support ICZM in KZN has been progressive and already has certainly shown great potential. However, with the increased use and subsequent involvement in the field of spatial decision-making, it has become clear that what is required is more than a just a collection of datasets for a GIS. SDI concerns such as the availability and quality of data, lack of metadata and the lack of clarity about intellectual property rights and institutional relationships must be addressed as these are impacting on the efficient and effective GIS use. The province of KZN can take advantage of the growing awareness of knowledge infrastructure development and thus achieve a coastal and marine spatial framework. Provincially the majority of the enabling conditions for the creation of a CSDI have been met, and importantly, there is national and regional recognition and interest.


  • Celliers, L. Bulman, R. Breetzke, T. and Parak O. (in press) Institutional Mapping of Integrated Coastal Zone Management in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Ocean Yearbook
  • Cotton, D. 2006. MDIP Marine Data Overview – Reference Document –Draft – V0.3, The UK Marine Data and Information Partnership, Inter-Agency Committee for Marine Science and Technology. Source:
  • Craglia, M. and Nowak, J. (eds.). 2006. Report of International Workshop on Spatial Data Infrastructures’ Cost-Benefit / Return on Investment: Assessing Impacts of Spatial Data Infrastructures, European Commission, Report EUR 22294 EN. Source:
  • GeoConnections. 2005. Source:
  • Gillespie, R., Butler, M., Anderson, N., Kucera, and LeBlanc, C. 2000. MGDI: An Information Infrastructure to Support Integrated Coastal Management in Canada, GeoCoast Vol. (1) No. (1) pp. (15-24).
  • Green, D., Longhorn, R., Bartlett, D., Roccatagliata, E. 2004. Oceans 21: GIS for Coastal Management and Coastal Education – Framework Science Plan. Source:
  • IACMST. 2006. Defining the Framework for UK Marine Data and Information. The UK Marine Data and Information Partnership, Inter-Agency Committee for Marine Science and Technology, UK. Source:
  • Jonkers, J. 2006. The European approach to coastal zone management. Proceedings of ECO-IMAGINE Conference, Cork, Ireland, June, 2006. Source:
  • Lance, K.T., Georgiadou, P.Y. and Bregt, A. 2006. Understanding how and why practitioners evaluate SDI performance. International Journal of Spatial Data Infrastructures Research 1.
  • Longhorn, R. 2003a. Coastal Spatial Data Infrastructure as Part of National/Regional SDI, in: CoastGIS 2003 Conference Proceedings, GISIG: Italy. Source:
  • Longhorn, R. 2003b. European CZM and the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Initiative (GSD), in: Green, D.J. and King, S.D. (eds), Coastal and Marine Geo-Information Systems, Kluwer Academic Press: Dordrecht, NL, pp. 543-554.
  • Longhorn, R. 2003c. A comparison of spatial information access policies of transnational environmental modelling and global climate change programs. In Geoinformation for European-wide Integration, T. Benes (ed.), Millpress, the Netherlands. 2003.
  • Longhorn, R. 2005. Coastal Spatial Data Infrastructure, Chapter 1 in: Bartlett, D. and Smith, J. (eds), GIS for Coastal Zone Management, CRC Press LLC, Bacon Raton, Florida, pp. 1-15.
  • MOTIIVE. 2006. Marine Overlays on Topography, EU-funded INSPIRE implementing rules project of the 6th RTD Framework Programme. Source:
  • Reed. G. 2006. Marine Community Profile of ISO 19115 Version 1.1, Australian Ocean Data Centre Joint Facility, 2006-05-01. Source:
  • Schwabe, C. et al. (eds) 2006. Determination of fundamental geo-spatial datasets for Africa through a user needs analysis. Report prepared for the Mapping Africa for Africa Initiative (MAFA), under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Compiled by the GIS Centre, Knowledge Systems Programme, Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and EIS AFRICA, February 2006. p.373
  • U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. 2004. An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century – Final Report. Washington, DC. Source: