Meet Courtney Dombroski, a self-described environmentalist who found a business she would love to own, and made it happen. Born in Mobile, she spent three to four weekends a month during the summer with her parents in Gulf Shores at the beach, boating, and riding jet skis.
After high school, Courtney went to work at UTC Aerospace, and built aircraft engines but soon realized that wasn’t for her. She became a server at local restaurants, and in 2018 was part of the Valor of Hospitality team that opened Gulf State Park Lodge. For two years she immersed herself in the hospitality industry and learned as much as she could. Then the pandemic came calling.
With a break from her normal work schedule, she decided to track business mentors with the thought that one day, she would own her own business. “In my mind, I wanted to be successful.” It doesn’t take much time spent with Courtney to see that she soaks up information like a sponge. She is driven to succeed.
At a Fourth of July party in 2020, she was introduced to a guy named Bill. This was during the pandemic, and Courtney met her friends to cook and play a board game called Rat Race. Bill was part of the group. Bill had a fish-feeding business which operated the vending machines that you see at waterfront restaurants and docks along the coast. Bill commented that he was ready to move on.
“I didn’t really see the connection to me at first, but the more I learned about the opportunity, I realized I had to go for it.” She asked Bill if she could tag along with him as he serviced the fish-feeding machines. “At first he tried to talk me out of it, but I said no, I want to see how this works because I want to buy this business.”
She spent three to four days a week riding the route with Bill. Courtney’s perseverance signaled to Bill that she was serious. In March 2021, Courtney bought the fish-feeding business, fulfilling her dream to become a business owner.
The business operates over sixty fish feeders, just like gumball machines, from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Panama City, Florida. The one-way route to service the feeders is 155 miles, and she has learned how to streamline the maintenance. She began adding new feeders to save time and money.
I asked Courtney if the feeders attract fish. “Yes, they do! There are new locations that have no visible fish and within two weeks they are attracting fry (smaller fish), then bigger fish, and then birds come. It’s very eco-friendly,” she says. “Lots of families with kids love to feed the fish.”
One of her early challenges was the fact that people only fed the fish once, so she created an online treasure map called myfishfeeding.com. “I wanted to take people all over like a treasure hunt to feed the fish and discover new areas to explore.” In her first year, she had 5000 visitors on her website. “There is tons of room for growth and we are growing steadily.”
One day in October 2021, Courtney was servicing the feeders at the gazebo at The Original Oyster House in Gulf Shores and noticed trash along the shoreline that was blowing into the Little Lagoon. "It was horrible. I started picking up trash and the business owner noticed what I was doing and thanked me for picking up the debris.”
She then realized that she should start her own nonprofit organization to do monthly trash pick-ups around the area. She launched Eco Clean Marine in January 2022. She organizes volunteer groups including businesses, families, and organizations that want to do their part in helping the environment.
She markets trash pick-up sites 30 days ahead of a scheduled event through Facebook ads. She provides buckets, grabbers, gloves, and the other necessary tools. She had six trash pick-up days in April alone and Kiwanis Clubs, Whole Foods, Aledade Inc., and Keller Williams Realty participated in their “Red Day.”
So far the biggest turnout was 86 volunteers in Pensacola Beach. At that event, a husband connected with Eco Clean Marine about organizing a trash pickup in Perdido Key in remembrance of his late wife, who loved the beach. To date, Courtney says that 549 volunteers have gathered 1,445 buckets of trash.
What’s next?, I ask. She plans to soon expand the fish-feeding business into the Eastern Shore, the Causeway, Mobile, and Dauphin Island. She is passionate about her dual role serving the environment. On one hand, she operates a for-profit fish-feeding business, which contributes positively to the ecosystem. On the other, she leads Eco Clean Marine, a non-profit organization dedicated to cleaning our waterways. She loves how these two initiatives complement each other, combining business sustainability with environmental responsibility.
Eco Clean Marine offers a plethora of programs with many chances to make a genuine difference. If you want to dive deeper into their initiatives or become part of their extended family, you can explore the website to see how you can participate.
About the Scenic 98 Coastal area, Courtney says she loves the growth, because growth brings opportunity. “It’s important to create jobs, but businesses need to support the environment as well. The thing that concerns me is that people are inconsiderate of the environment. As community leaders, we must hold people accountable so this remains a great place to live, work, and play well into the future.”
Well said, Courtney. Thanks so much for what you are doing to keep Scenic 98 Coastal scenic!