updated 9/22/2008 11:43:40 AM ET 2008-09-22T15:43:40

Birds and turtles are developing digestive problems as their stomachs fill with plastic they mistakenly believe is food. The endangered Hawaiian monk seal population is struggling as many of the mammals get entangled in improperly discarded fishing nets.

These examples underscore that efforts to prevent and reduce ocean debris are inadequate and the problem will likely worsen, according to a congressionally mandated report released Friday.

The report by the National Research Council recommends the U.S. take the lead in coordinating regional management of marine debris.

It said international maritime regulations should be changed to ban the dumping of trash into the ocean.

The report focused on marine debris discharged at sea, though it noted some ocean debris is generated on land as well.

"Despite all the regulations and limitations over the last 20 years, there are still large quantities of waste and litter in the oceans," said Keith Criddle, chair of the committee that wrote the report and a University of Alaska professor.

The study recommended Congress designate a lead agency to address problems like derelict fishing gear, ship waste and abandoned vessels.

International regulations also should be modified to prohibit the discharge of all garbage at sea, the report said.

Other findings in the report:

  • Ports should have adequate facilities for accepting and managing vessel waste.
  • Ships should have incentives to dispose of their waste in port.
  • Marine debris responsibilities are spread across organizations, slowing progress.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should develop fishing gear marking protocols to reduce gear loss and abandonment.

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