UNEP/MAP Running an Authentic Marathon for a Sustainable Mediterranean

Car-free Amalias Avenue looks so different on this bright and sunny Sunday in central Athens. Dressed in different colors, enthusiastic runners are taking position at their blocks, as they warm up, awaiting the starting pistol. It is the day of the Athens Authentic Marathon 2016.

7:59 AM: The gun fire sounds, indicating the beginning of the 5-km run. A multitude of runners sets off in the streets of Athens. Among these is a group running in aid of disabled people, also for children with cancer, for people with diabetes, and for refugees, to name but a few. In the crowd, there is a group running for a Sustainable Mediterranean.

The United Nations Environment Programme / Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP/MAP) staff members and families of various nationalities, took part in the Athens Marathon. The blue and green logo was visible on their shirts and caps, as they cut through the crowds, some walking and others running for a Sustainable Mediterranean.

Sustainable development is of key importance for the Mediterranean: it is a closed sea, in which water renewal is limited by the narrow connection to the ocean, and therefore, particularly sensitive to pollution. The Mediterranean Sea is home to a large diversity of ecosystems and species subject to considerable pressures. The fragility of the region is further aggravated by its sensitivity to climate change.

“It is the first time I ran a Marathon, I was afraid I would not make it, so I started training 2 months ago, and I made it, says one of them. It was worth it, our Sea deserves it”.

The streets were full of life with loud music and cheerful crowds greeting the runners, encouraging them along the way. They were applauded as they reached the arrival point at the Panathinaiko Stadium.

"The atmosphere as you enter the stadium was spectacular” stated one runner from UNEP/MAP. 

“I found it very easy, next year I will go for the 10-km one”, said another staff member, while Nestoras, 15, who was running with his father realized he made an achievement “It was my first experience in a marathon, I loved the ambiance, all those people playing music to give tired runners a boost. It was fantastic. I will surely be there next year”. For Antigone, the youngest runner of the group, it was “the surrounding enthusiasm and peaceful atmosphere that impressed me. Next year, I will surely run for the Mediterranean again”, she said in her French accent.

The Barcelona Convention is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Throughout the last four decades, the Contracting Parties have been taking measures to protect the shared wealth of the unique ecosystem of the Mediterranean.