A massive claim for customary rights of New Zealand's foreshore and sea beds has been lodged in the High Court at Rotorua by a local iwi leader.

The application by New Zealand Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul - made on behalf of all Maori - wants recognition of customary marine title and protected customary rights over the New Zealand coast and the entire foreshore and territorial waters of New Zealand.

"Our position is quite simple, the government has been in charge since 1840. They've made a mess of the water, they've made a mess of the environment, our clean green image is about to be destroyed and we're saying we've had a guts full of this poor management," he said.

Under the Marine and Coastal Area Act 2011 claims had to be filed within six years - applications closed on Sunday.

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One-hundred-and-fifty claims for ownership, for thousands of kilometres of New Zealand's coastline were filed in high courts around the country.

Paul, who lives in Ohope, said it was his duty as a member of the New Zealand Maori Council to protect all Maori.

"By law I am bound to do what I am doing, I have applied just in case Maori who have customary rights failed to apply by the due dates," he said.

NZ Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul. Photo/File
NZ Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul. Photo/File

Paul said rights guaranteed under the Treaty of Waitangi "could have been extinguished" if he didn't take this action.

Te Arawa Lakes Trust chairman Sir Toby Curtis said when Maori made claims like this it was easy to think they were "silly buggers" but he agreed with Paul.

"The Maori want to be part of the environment - the care, maintenance and protection of it," he said.

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Sir Toby said there was a difference between a Pakeha and Maori sense of ownership.

"It's not so much an ownership, it's more custodial," he said.

"New Zealand is a resource to pass on to the next generation, not just sell on."

Maori fishing rights were virtually non-existent until the 1992 Fisheries Claims settlement when they were given $150 million, and a 20 per cent quota.

"That was partial recognition, but the government retained the rights to make laws, this time we want full and exclusive rights," Paul said.

The 2004 protest against Seabed and Foreshore Legislation enroute to the grounds of parliament. Photo/File
The 2004 protest against Seabed and Foreshore Legislation enroute to the grounds of parliament. Photo/File

The New Zealand Maori Council plans to implement a water commission to protect against future pollution.

"We have protected the fisheries, no one is complaining about that. With the water, the foreshore, the sea bed and the marine act we will protect the environment there also," he said.

Paul said complaints Maori were after money were false.

"There are better ways to ensure our economic sustainability," he said.

"Some people may think I've gone off the green train, but the facts are the facts, we are destroying our livelihood, we are destroying our environment, we are destroying the lifeblood, because that is water.

"I have black-haired brown-eyed mokopuna and I have blonde-haired green-eyed grandchildren, and I want them both to share in the legacy I create for this country."

The Crown has begun negotiating directly with those likely to have well-founded claims.

Anyone is able to object to a claim within 20 days of it being advertised.