Albatross couple ‘catching paradise’ and taking three for the sea

Published on Ms Dallas McMaugh (author), POIS Lee-Anne Cooper (photographer)

Location(s): Shoalhaven, NSW

Topic(s): HMAS Albatross, Charities, Fundraising & Community

Able Seaman Aviation Technician Avionics Tom Jacobson and wife Dani with a wave of the rubbish they have recently collected from local beaches in the Shoalhaven area, NSW. (photo: POIS Lee-Anne Cooper)
Able Seaman Aviation Technician Avionics Tom Jacobson and wife Dani with a wave of the rubbish they have recently collected from local beaches in the Shoalhaven area, NSW.

One of the major drawcards of a posting to HMAS Albatross is its proximity to some of the most beautiful national parks and beaches in the world - with more than 165km coastline along the Shoalhaven for personnel to explore. 

In his three years at Albatross’s 808 Squadron, Able Seaman Aircraft Technician Avionics Tom Jacobson has covered the majority of it.

While Tom and his wife Dani say they “live by the wind and swell report”, they are actually more likely to be seen collecting marine debris than catching waves.

Both are committed to the ‘Take 3 for the Sea’ philosophy of addressing a complex global problem through the simple action of taking three pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach.

Tom and Dani don’t just stop at three however, and recently collected more than 35 kilos of rubbish in just one day.

“When we moved to Jervis Bay, we couldn’t get over how stunning the beaches are, and how unspoilt they looked,” Tom said.

“We ventured to more remote and secluded beaches to escape the crowds and enjoyed the serenity of pristineness, but revisiting these beaches after some big south storms we were disgusted to find most of them affected by marine debris.”

Tom said the never-ending nature of the task made it a bigger challenge than simply collecting and removing rubbish.

“No matter where we are, we will always find debris.

“Once exposed it’s difficult to look at a beach or marine environment the same way.

“It’s also quite a harsh reality check in terms of reflecting on the products we use and have used throughout our lives.

“It’s an ongoing challenge for us to buy less and reuse more,” he said.

The couple said they were still shocked by the things they find on the beaches. 

“We have found soda bottles from the 70s, 20 litre oil drums with oil still inside them, bottles that have been sold in South East Asia, an old plastic margarine container that was made in the 70s - plastic sure does have a long life,” Tom said.  

“Plastic would be the main debris we find, mostly broken up pieces of hard plastics.

“A big motivator for us is the idea that we can take direct action to protect the species that we love so much.

“We’ve seen plenty of dolphins, whales and even a few turtles in Jervis Bay, so it is makes it easy for us to continue to clean-up when we think about the impact on our amazing wildlife,” he said.

Tom and Dani have set up an Instagram page called ‘Catching Paradise’, which aims to expose others to the problems of marine debris in their local environment.

“Sometimes we can leave a beach feeling beaten by the problem, but that’s what inspired us to start Catching Paradise, and it helps us be much more optimistic about the future of our environment,” Tom said.

“It makes our day when people tell us that they were inspired by our clean-ups to do their own, and we love chatting about all the bizarre items we find washed up.

“Slowly, we are creating a community of people who care about our environment and as that community grows, so does our optimism.

“It’s a fun day out, even though it can sometimes be heartbreaking, but you always feel like you’ve done something positive for the planet,” he said. 

And when they’re not collecting debris, Tom and Dani take time out to enjoy all that the south coast offers.

“Depending on the weather, we’ll either go for a snorkel, a fish, a surf, maybe take the outrigger out or even just go for a bushwalk out to some beaches.

“We love catching fish for dinner and cooking it over the fire. How lucky are we to live and work in paradise?!” Tom said.