A French explorer and environmentalist is visiting Queensland’s tropical north to encourage north American tourists to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

A French explorer promoting Queensland as a travel hot spot says ensuring the Great Barrier Reef is protected will encourage tourists to flock to the state.

Jean-Michel Cousteau, who is also an environmentalist and film producer, is in the state’s tropical north as part of a campaign to promote the region to north American tourists.

“We need to do everything we can to protect it,” Mr Cousteau, who has spent five decades exploring the sea, told reporters in Cairns on Wednesday.

“These are jewels, so whether you are a snorkeler or a scuba diver or whatever … if (the coral) is not there people won’t come anymore, people will go somewhere else.”

Mr Cousteau, founder of marine conservation and education organisation Ocean Futures Society, says he’s encouraged by the work Australia is doing to protect the reef.

However, he says there are a number issues affecting the reef’s health, including run-off from developments and farms, fishing and dredging.

He says the reef is a “special place” and has some of the best coral anywhere in the world.

Mr Cousteau, son of the late French cinematographer Jacques Cousteau, says tourism and education are closely linked.

This is because people want places they visit protected and tourists also encourage others to visit areas they feel are being looked after.

Mr Cousteau says a barrier for north American travellers wanting to visit Australia is the belief the country is too far from home, a mindset he hopes to change.

North America is an important international market for Queensland, with the state welcoming 205,000 visitors in the year to March 2014.

Mr Cousteau is in the state’s north endorsing Queensland itineraries for Stella Travel Services in the US as part of deal with the state’s tourism bodies.