WASHINGTON – The world’s largest protected marine area is being created around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, an archipelago 1,400 miles long and 100 miles wide that is home to rare marine mammals, fishes and birds. President George W. Bush is to announce today his decision to create the nation’s newest national monument from the vast chain of largely uninhabited islands, atolls, coral reef colonies and seamounts. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the new protected area in Hawaiian waters would dwarf all others. “It’s the single-largest act of ocean conservation in history. It’s a large milestone,” Lautenbacher said. “It is a place to maintain biodiversity and to maintain basically the nurseries of the Pacific. It spawns a lot of the life that permeates the middle of the Pacific Ocean.” Until now, Bush had used the 100-year-old Antiquities Act only once. The act gives the president authority to create national monuments to preserve the nation’s ancient cultural sites and unusual geological features. In February, Bush declared part of the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan a national monument. The site, covering less than half an acre, marks where an estimated 20,000 slaves and free blacks were buried in the 1700s. President Clinton used the act to create 19 national monuments and expand three others.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2The region hosts more than 7,000 species, at least a fourth of them found only there and including some on the government’s endangered list, such as the Hawaiian monk seal and the nesting green sea turtle. Bush decided to invoke the 1906 National Antiquities Act and create a national monument for only the second time during his presidency, a senior administration official said. Earlier Wednesday, the president had planned to use instead the National Marine Sanctuary Act, a law that would allow challenges from Congress and others to the decision, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage Bush. “This means the area will get immediate protection rather than having to wait another year,” the official said, adding that Bush opted for a monument after realizing the process had gone on for five years and elicited thousands of comments. With the national monument designation, the federal government can immediately begin a five-year phaseout of the eight commercial fishing permits in the area and impose strict prohibitions on any other extractive uses.