The current Covid-19 pandemic has made it very difficult to proceed with the Flock to Marion voyage in January 2021. After extensive discussions with MSC Cruises, a decision was made to postpone the voyage to January 2022 (with a departure on 24 January 2022, although this may change by a day or two).

MSC Cruises, and especially the MD of MSC Cruises South Africa, have been very understanding and supportive. We took various factors into account during our extensive discussions during the past few months, including the age demographic of our passengers and the large international contingent. Importantly, we have also considered the health and wellbeing of our passengers. BirdLife South Africa believes that the postponement is the best outcome and, especially with the current uncertainties, it is better to delay the voyage by a year.

I know that our passengers appreciate what a major coup it was to secure a ship to take us to the Southern Ocean. It is certainly a very unique opportunity and one that BirdLife South Africa is very pleased to have been able to arrange for its members and for the birding community.

So, Flock to Marion here we come, but just not right away! It is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime voyage and experience. I, for one, cannot wait!

Further good news is that that the passengers who have already booked will not pay the 2021/2022 fee increase. Furthermore, we now have another year to ensure that we obtain the permit to enter and anchor in the Marine Protected Area. I look forward to eyeballing a Lesser Sheathbill through my binoculars and spotting scope!

Flock to Marion will raise good funding for BirdLife South Africa’s important conservation work, so I’d like to encourage our passengers not to cancel. Covid-19 has been horrible and many of us have family and friends who have been ill, and some have sadly lost their lives. It has also been a major inconvenience for many, but let’s not let it interfere with our plans to sail to the Southern Ocean where we will have an opportunity to cast our eyes on two remote sub-Antarctic islands and see a wonderful diversity of magnificent seabirds and marine mammals. We will have more than 40 bird and marine mammal guides on board, including Peter Harrison, and it will be a week of adventure, learning and camaraderie.

Finally, we apologise for the inconvenience and we thank you for your understanding.

Mark D. Anderson
Chief Executive Officer
BirdLife South Africa

Welcome to the official information portal for Flock to Marion 2022.

The voyage was originally planned for January 2021, but has been postponed due to Covid-19.

We now set sail from Durban on 24 January 2022. We will to Marion Island, spend a few days in the Southern Ocean, and we the arrive in Cape Town on 31 January 2022. (note that these dates may be altered by a day or two, depending on the final MSC Cruises schedule for the 2021/2022 summer)

More than 1700 people have booked (by August 2020), so up to 300 berths remain.

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 and lecturers 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.

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, keep an eye on this webpage when we will announce when the bookings will open up for the postponed voyage). Bookings will be able to be made 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 a number of informative lectures, including by some of the world’s seabird and cetacean experts.

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 Gisela Ortner at gisela@ortner.co.za.

How do I become a member of Birdlife South Africa?

To join BirdLife South Africa you can email Shireen at membership@birdlife.org.za, or you can join online.

Which ship will the voyage take place on?

The MSC Opera:
https://www.msccruises.co.za/our-cruises/ships/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?

https://www.msccruises.co.za/faq

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.