BirdLife South Africa is very concerned about the current global coronavirus pandemic and has therefore put in place a number of interim and important operational measures. We have also been in regular communication with MSC Cruises about Flock to Marion, and both parties are hopeful that the voyage will still go ahead. We will take guidance from South African government directives and the World Health Organization. MSC Cruises will, without doubt, be taking the utmost precaution around passenger health and safety. More information will be made available as the situation progresses.

Welcome to the official information portal for Flock to Marion 2021 which setsail from Durban on 25 January 2021. Onboard the MSC Opera, we will cruise down towards Marion Island and we arrive back ashore in Cape Town harbour on the 1st of February 2021. This 7-night cruise on the MSC Opera is a unique voyage for conservation, education and fundraising. The aims of the voyage are to raise awareness about seabirds, create an opportunity for birders to observe seabirds not usually seen on traditional pelagic birding trips, and to raise funds for BirdLife South Africa’s important conservation work (including the important Mouse-Free Marion Project). 

As described by Robert Cusham Murphy, “I now belong to a higher cult of mortals for I have seen the Albatross”… This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and a first of its kind voyage for birders from all around the world. And it is not just the 11 different species of albatrosses that may be seen, but also possible sightings of 5 species of penguins, 16 species of petrels, 7 species of storm petrels, 7 prions and 7 shearwaters, and 16 different species of cetaceans. Helping us find all of these, BirdLife South Africa has arranged for more than 40 specialist bird and cetacean guides for the voyage and we have the generous support of some of South Africa’s and indeed the world’s top bird guiding companies. Be sure to also look out for the pre- and post- flock tours that will be on offer, too. 

Everything you need to know can be found on this webpage. If it’s not here yet, it is still being finalised and will be loaded as soon it’s ready. You will be able to find our wonderful merchandise options, the fantastic experts who will be assisting us while out on the decks as well as any preparations for weather you may need to know about. 

This adventure is not to be missed: excellent seabirding and whale/dolphin-watching, an unforgettable voyage to the Southern Ocean, and special camaraderie with approximately 2000 enthusiastic, like-minded birders on board. If you haven’t booked, make sure you don’t miss the boat! Bookings are only available via the MSC website or via their call centre (+27 87 630 0333). 

Why do I have to pay a guiding fee?

We will have 40 expert guides available around the ship to assist in the guiding. There will also be various informative lectures, including by Peter Harrison, during the cruise.

How do I book a spot for Flock to Marion?

Please see the booking information in the tab above.

I am travelling alone and would like to share with someone, is this possible?

Yes it is possible. There are a few passengers that will be sharing. Please contact Charles Saunders to assist you with this:

Send him an email with ‘Flock to Marion’ in the subject and nothing in the body. He will send you a live Excel file that you need to complete and send back to Charles.

Do all guests in the same cabin have to be members of Birdlife South Africa in order to benefit from the early booking benefit?

No, only one person in the cabin needs to be a member

How do I become a member of Birdlife South Africa?

To join BirdLife South Africa you can email Shireen at, or you can join online.

Which ship will the voyage take place on?

The MSC Opera:

Is the MSC Opera built to withstand the Southern Ocean conditions?

MSC would not take us there if the ship could not sail in those waters. Safety will however be paramount and the captain will avoid rough seas and bad weather.

Where can I find more information about MSC cruises?

Will we anchor close to Marion Island?

We have not as yet secured a permit to enter the Prince Edward Islands (i.e. including Marion Island) Marine Protected Area. As things currently stand, we will therefore not be able to sail within 12 nautical miles of the two islands. We will however continue to engage with the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries in our efforts to obtain the necessary permit. Should we obtain a permit, we anticipate being able to approach to within 1 km of Marion Island, but will obviously not be able to land there.

What birds can I expect to see on the voyage?

Some of the seabirds that will be seen include: King Penguin, Wandering, Grey-headed, Sooty and Light-mantled Albatrosses, Kerguelen, Grey and Blue Petrels, Subantarctic Shearwater, Common and South Georgian Diving Petrels, and Grey-backed and Leach’s Storm Petrels. If permission is obtained to enter the 12-nautical mile zone around the islands, then Kerguelen Tern, Crozet Shag and Lesser Sheathbill also will be seen. You can view the full list here.

Do these birds count for my South African bird list?

All bird species seen within 200 nautical miles of the Prince Edward Islands (i.e. within the South African Exclusive Economic Zone around the islands) qualify for the South African Bird List.