Recently rehabbed veterans who have been injured in war and conflicts can return home to find that getting a job is next to impossible, especially in these days of less-than-great economic times. Wounded Nature-Working Veterans (WNWV), a new nonprofit group, seeks to put these dedicated men and women back to work, helping to clean up polluted estuaries and waterways. The group provides that first paycheck and a transition back to civilian life. While most of the well-known cleanup efforts are undertaken near major cities, WNWV aims to cover less accessible places.

 According to the group's website, the group will focus on, "... the areas most important to wildlife: the isolated beaches, bays, and estuaries are not being cleaned up on an annual basis. These are crucial birthing areas for endangered and threatened species. The constant accumulation and breakdown of plastics in these critical areas builds up high toxicity levels, and kills generations of future wildlife. Wounded Nature is stopping this toxic buildup, educating the public, and saving wildlife in the process."

Removing plastics is one of the primary cleanup goals. When plastic makes its way into the environment, it doesn't biodegrade. Instead, it breaks into many smaller pieces, which are ingested by aquatic animals, many of which are already under pressure to survive. The plastic can be eaten or absorbed by small fish, amphibians or birds and can end up choking or obstructing the insides of these animals, leading to death by starvation. It is especially hazardous in breeding grounds and nurseries.

The group is also currently trying to find a ship for traveling up and down the East Coast that will serve as a base for their activities, as a conveyance to festivals and as an educational space. It will allow the people working on cleanup missions to access remote areas and also act as a temporary home. (The boat will also enable the group to invite journalists on board to learn more about the nonprofit.)

The plan is, "The ship will move up the East Coast during the summer and work in the southern coastal areas during the winter months. As the ship moves north, it will be docked at the closest large port each month as employees return home for their days off. In general, the ship’s employees will work for 20 straight days and have 10 days off each month. Workers will be bused between their home port and the ship’s current work location.

Other WNWV goals include disaster relief — delivering water or picking up those in need — and marine research for scientists or writers. The group's first missions are scheduled for January 2011 in Florida; see the rest of the schedule here for their first year of work.  

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Wounded veterans clean polluted waterways
East Coast estuaries get some TLC from recovering war heroes.