Maori are claiming customary rights to a 15km stretch of beach between Mount Maunganui and Papamoa but say they don't want ownership.
The claim, lodged by Colin Reeder, on behalf of applicant Nga Potiki Tahuwhaka Tiki Marae, is one of four claims in total for the Western Bay of Plenty.
TV3 has reported that nationally, Maori are claiming customary rights and/or title to more than 20 beaches, including the stretch of beach from Omanu to Wairakei and three areas of coast on Motiti Island.
Mr Reeder said about 5000 people were part of Nga Potiki Tahuwhaka Tiki Marae, a group of people affiliated with Ngai Te Rangi Iwi.
All are descendants of a single ancestor - Tamapahore.
Mr Reeder said the stretch of beach between Omanu and Wairakei measures about 15km.
Maori want acknowledgement of their long association with the coastline and for the Crown to acknowledge their historical and environmental interests as well as "kaitiakitanga" (guardianship).
They are seeking a customary rights order for the harvesting of various kaimoana and the collecting of driftwood, imposing rahui (bans), and cultural and environmental education.
The claim was about "acknowledgement" not ownership and all New Zealanders would be allowed on the beach and allowed to harvest resources, said Mr Reeder.
"It won't give Maori particular powers of the beach. This is not about excluding people from the beach ... It is about confirming our kaitiakitanga, as provided for under the Treaty of Waitangi," he said.
Mr Reeder said all 20-plus claims are sitting in the High Court in Wellington and must meet the requirements of the the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011, which replaced the Foreshore and Seabed Act.
Mr Reeder said the new legislation was prescriptive and applicants must meet certain tests to be successful. It would be tough, and the legal costs high.
"We expect to dig deep in our pockets. (But) we have to provide a legacy for the next generations."
Mr Reeder said the stretch of Mount and Papamoa beach under the claim was also a historical burial ground. The claim, lodged in 2009 but publicised this week, was held over while the Foreshore and Seabed Act was being repealed and then transferred from the Maori Land Court, to the Wellington High Court.
"Many of our forebearers are buried beneath the sand dunes over many centuries, which is evidenced by discovery of skeleton remains from time to time from erosion, or human activity.
"Like everyone else, we want to see our community enjoy the coast and it belongs to all of us. But Maori want its historical and environmental interests respected and recognised. The need to protect our coastline is even more important now because of the Rena. It affirms our determination."
Steve Morris, chairman of the Papamoa Progressive Association, said if the claims were for "past wrongs" and tangata whenua were feeling hurt then one way to redress that was to make some formal acknowledgement of their link to Papamoa beach. It was important to acknowledge Maori, but it was also important to recognise Pakeha, he said.
"They also have their own history in this area. My daughter is the fourth generation of Morris' to live by Papamoa beach and we have our own stories and connection to the land. Sir Tipene O'Reagan said it best when he said 'the same whenua that has shaped Maori has also shaped Europeans'. We have no where else to go," said Mr Morris.
"We can't go back to Europe. The land is also important to us as well."
Three Maori groups were also making claims on Motiti Island, and were competing against each other for effective ownership - customary title of the coast, TV3 News has reported.
Customary title is much stronger than customary rights and if granted, allow Maori to charge commercial operators, veto developments and ban access under customary practices such as closing the beach under a rahui.
The Motiti Rohe Moana Trust has filed a claim for one of three applicants.
Trust spokesperson Umuhuri Matehaere told the Bay of Plenty Times the trust was not prepared to say who their applicant/s were or confirm whether they were going for customary rights or customary title.
Mr Matehaere said this was because negotiations were still taking place and the information was confidential between them and the Crown.
A claim was first lodged by the Motiti Island Rohe Trust in 2009 but was likewise withheld when the Foreshore and Seabed Act underwent Government review.
The trust re-lodged its application this year.
The Motiti claims are among 21 different areas of coastline now under 24 claims for title under the Marine and Coastal Area Bill.
Beaches in the Western Bay under claim
One claim: Papamoa coast (Omanu to Wairakei)
Three claims: Motiti Island