Above photo: the MSC Orchestra by MSC Cruises

After much anticipation and intense preparation by the dedicated BirdLife South Africa team and their volunteers who form part of the organising committee, the Mouse-Free Marion (MFM) Project team are ready to set sail on BirdLife South Africa’s ‘Flock to Marion’ voyage. This will be a voyage unlike any other the MFM team has taken part in, and will be an incredible opportunity to join fellow birders on the cruise liner, the MSC Orchestra, destined for sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Originally scheduled for early 2020 and postponed due to COVID-19, ‘Flock to Marion’ offers keen birders a chance to spend a week at sea in the comfort of a luxury cruise liner along with 40 specialist guides and exciting social opportunities. Additionally, an interesting lecture schedule has been prepared that will feature top seabird and mammal experts, including MFM’s own Dr Anton Wolfaardt.

The MSC Orchestra will set sail on 24 January from Cape Town and will voyage south through the Roaring Forties to reach the Prince Edward Island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The trip will provide passengers with the incredible opportunity to spot Southern Ocean pelagic seabirds like albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters amongst others. The MSC Orchestra will spend some time within the South African EEZ on the outward voyage and on the return trip before docking in Durban harbour on 31 January, providing ample time to spot some of the more elusive southern African seabirds.

‘Flock to Marion’ will provide several fundraising opportunities for the MFM Project and will contribute towards the Project’s fundraising goals. Prominent seabird expert Peter Harrison MBE will be presenting several lectures during the voyage and will also deliver presentations at two private fundraising events. These will be held at L’Ormarins Wine Estate outside of Cape Town and at The Oyster Box Hotel outside Durban before and after the cruise, respectively. Cruise passengers will be encouraged to make pledges and donations by sponsoring a hectare towards the MFM Project and will have the chance to win some amazing prizes, including a pair of Swarovski binoculars and signed copies of Peter Harrison’s recently published seabird guidebook.

In addition to providing some excellent birding and fundraising opportunities, ‘Flock to Marion’ provides a rare occasion for three of the five MFM Project team members to meet in person for the first time. Dr Anton Wolfaardt (Project Manager), Robyn Adams (Communication Officer) and Heidi Whitman (Chief Philanthropy Officer) all work remotely in different cities, with Heidi flying in all the way from California, USA.

The MFM team is grateful for all the hard work undertaken by our colleagues at BirdLife South Africa to ensure that the ‘Flock to Marion’ voyage is an unforgettable experience, and we look forward to meeting MFM supporters on board.

Robyn Adams, Communications Officer and Project Assistant. 24 January 2022