Milos Island: A sustainable case of mining & tourism

Milos Mining History

Milos belongs to the Greek island complex of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. Most of Cycladic islands started to rise out of the Aegean Sea some 2.7 -1.8 million years ago, as the result of volcanic eruptions on land and beneath the sea, the activity of which continued for hundreds of thousands of years. The volcanic “heritage” of Milos consists of a broad range of minerals such as obsidian, pumice, sulfur, alunite, melian earth (kaolin), perlite, bentonite, manganese etc.

Minerals, being the resources for the manufacturing of useful every-day-life tools and materials, were exploited on Milos as early as the Neolithic Age (8,000 B.C.), providing also the reason for the genesis of trade in the prehistoric Aegean. Obsidian was used as the raw material for tools and weapons, pumice in mosaic polishing and tannery, sulfur and alunite in pharmacy and for curative purposes etc. During the Roman period, the minerals of Milos were exported and traded to the entire region of the Eastern Mediterranean. Late in the 19th century minerals exploited on Milos were manganese, sulfur and kaolin in various locations of the island. The economic boom that followed World War II and the need for raw materials heralded a new rise in the mining activity of the island.

Milos local economy and Tourism

As opposed to other Greek islands, Milos comparative advantage lays exactly on the volcanic origin of its geology. It is not only the impressive landscapes, beaches, rock formations, colors and other geological phenomena (caves, fumaroles, geothermal, prismatic lofty cliffs, etc.) but also the human footprint on the island related to geology: Phylacopi prehistoric settlement (obsidian trading was its main activity), the Early-Christian catacombs, the pirates’ shelters in coves, the 19th c. mining installations on the island (such as the sulfur mines and processing plant in Paliorema, the Vani cape manganese exploitation complex, loading bridges etc.) that consist significant monuments of industrial archaeology. Another particular feature attributed to Milos mining heritage are ‘syrmata’, fishermen boat rock-cut shelters.

Due to the wealth created from the various mining activities, ancient Milos was a remarkable city in Archaic and Classical years, as well as in Roman times as witnessed by the10.000 seats theater. Close to the theater the famous statue of Aphrodite of Milos, created at the end of the Hellenistic period, was discovered early in the 19th c.

Apart from the mining activity, Milos local economy is also based at a large extent on tourism. Visitors are estimated to be 85,000 per annum for an island of approx. 5,000 inhabitants. Services (incl. tourism) account for 55% of Milos domestic product, while manufacturing (most of it mining) stands for 40%, a major contributor to Milos local economy. Due to both pillars’ strength (mining & tourism), there is literally no unemployment on the island. As a result, local population is kept in place around the year, since mining, unlike tourism, is not a seasonal activity.

Milos Mining & Tourism: S&B’s presence and contribution

S&B first operated on the island in 1934, extracting barite originally, while kaolin, bentonite and perlite were added to the company’s business portfolio subsequently. Since then, S&B has developed through mergers and acquisitions into a global minerals and materials group providing industrial solutions to a broad range of industrial applications. Currently, S&B is the largest miner on the island employing almost 15% of the island’s workforce.

Since the very early years of its activity in Milos, S&B has developed a social profile, engaging its employees and the local community working together. Its social contribution comprised actions promoting tourism. Examples are:

  • Milos Mining Museum with approx. 10,000 visitors per annum, where the mining history and the minerals wealth of Milos is showcased.
  • Milos Conference Center, able to facilitate 400 conferees each time, and hosting around 5,000 visitors per year. Several conferences and seminars (some of them on mining) have been hosted, extending Milos touristic season, beyond summer every year.
  • Geo-tourism activities. Organized walks (maps, info, guides etc.) related to past mining activities and the island’s geological formations.
  • Establishment of the annual summer Milos Cultural Festival (as early as 1994), hosting local traditional as well as theatrical and musical events.
  • Milos Initiative, a partnership with the Milos Municipality for the promotion of sustainable development on the island, which resulted in major infrastructure investments (like the wastewater treatment plant, etc.).

Mining and tourism therefore are both activities that can go hand-in-hand in the promotion of local economies. Milos is the living example of such a fruitful and sustainable symbiosis.

Thomas Androulakis, S&B Group