BirdLife South Africa’s (BLSA’s) “Flock to Marion” 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.

The response thus far has been overwhelming! As a result, there are only inside cabins and a limited number of seaview cabins available. So, book soon!

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

  •  Booking are open to BirdLife South Africa’s members and people who are not members of our organisation.
  •  However, we encourage everyone to become a member of BirdLife South Africa. You can email Shireen Gould (at membership@birdlife.org.za) and she 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/).
  •  You can make you booking via MSC Cruises’ call centre in Johannesburg (087 630 0333), MSC’s website (www.msccruises.co.za) and via your travel agent.
  •  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.

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