We are very pleased that BirdLife South Africa’s (BLSA’s) “Flock to Marion” voyage will go ahead.

The seven-night voyage on the MSC Opera will take place in January 2021, with a Durban departure on 25 January and an arrival in Cape Town on 1 February.

There are a few important points to note and more details will be provided in further communications:

  • Booking will be open, exclusively for BLSA’s members, from 08h00 on Monday 6 January 2020 to 12h00 on Saturday 18 January 2020. People who are not BLSA members will be able to book thereafter (i.e. from 08h00 on Monday 20 January 2020).
  • Despite our office being closed until 2 January 2020, our membership manager will do her best to process all membership applications received before bookings open.
  • You can email me (at ceo@birdlife.org.za) and I will send you a membership application form, or you can join online (https://www.birdlife.org.za/support-us/join-us/join-birdlife-south-africa/).
  • Please provide your membership number when making your booking.
  • Note that members of affiliated bird clubs who are not also members of BLSA will not qualify for the early-bird booking.
  • BLSA appreciates the support it receives from its members and we believe that this early-bird booking is one way in which we can provide a benefit to our members and acknowledge their support.
  • An early booking could help ensure a preferred cabin (e.g. “Oceanview” or “Balcony”) at the initial prices. VERY IMPORTANTLY, note that MSC Cruises’ dynamic pricing will apply and the prices will go up as demand increases.
  • The initial bookings (for BLSA members) will be done through MSC Cruises’ call centre in Johannesburg (087 630 0333) and we have been assured that there is sufficient capacity to deal with the expected large number of bookings. Subsequent bookings can be done through the various MSC Cruises platforms.
  • The following TERMS AND CONDITIONS will apply to this voyage:
  1. A non-refundable (advance) payment of R6000 per passenger as well as a refundable R1000 guiding/lecture fee will need to be paid when the booking is made (so a total of R7000 per person).
  2. If an occupancy of 60% of the berths on the cruise ship is not reached by 1 September 2020, MSC Cruises has the right to change the routing to (a) a 5-night seabird-watching voyage from Durban to Cape Town and (b) a 2-night seabird-watching “voyage to nowhere” from Cape Town. Should MSC Cruises invoke this change, all passengers who have booked will HAVE to pay in FULL for at least the alternate 5-night cruise.
  3. We have not as yet secured a permit to enter the Prince Edward Islands (i.e. including Marion Island) Marine Protected Area despite extensive efforts to do so during the latter half of 2019. 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.
  • We believe that this voyage is unique, as cruise ships do not venture this far into the Southern Ocean. The birding and the whale/dolphin watching will be superb. 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.
  • BLSA confirms that 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.
  • BLSA will arrange for a large number (40) of 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.
  • There will be a series of interesting lectures on seabirds, cetaceans, Marion Island and Antarctica during the voyage. Peter Harrison, the “David Attenborough of the oceans”, will present a few lectures, including his spellbinding talks on albatrosses and penguins.
  • Peter Harrison’s new seabird book will be launched during Flock to Marion and he will be available to sign and personalise copies during the voyage. These will be available for sale before the voyage.

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 BLSA’s important work (including the important Mouse Free Marion Project).

This adventure is not to be missed: excellent seabirding and whale/dolphin-watching, an unforgettable voyage to the Southern Ocean, and special camaraderie with >2000 enthusiastic, like-minded birders on board.

Based on the overwhelming and very encouraging interest expressed in the voyage we anticipate reaching the 60% occupancy well before 1 September 2020 which will ensure that the original route will be followed.

We hope to see you on this unique voyage to the Southern Ocean!