TOURISM operators on the Barrier Reef should stop using picturesque underwater photos of bright pink and yellow coral and tell people what the reef is truly like.
That is one of the messages that came out of a Brisbane forum about the Great Barrier Reef and tourism.
Whitsundays tourism operator Al Grundy told the forum water quality in the Whitsundays had declined 45% in the past 10 years.
He said sometimes the water quality was so poor, they couldn't let tourists swim or snorkel.
Mr Grundy, from Explore Whitsundays, quizzed panellists about how the Great Barrier Reef should be marketed to international tourists when some days it was not possible to swim in the water.
"My sales reps are marketing around the world, they're going into universities in the UK, we're showing them beautiful images, we're talking it up and we're bringing young people here and travellers from Europe and the UK," he said.
Mr Grundy said that on some days boats carrying tourists would arrive out on the reef and staff would carry out a risk assessment and realised the water quality was too poor.
Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort managing director Peter Gash, who works on the resort located off the coast between Gladstone and Bundaberg, said any marketing should be honest and transparent.
Mr Gash said a mistake tourist operators had made was using pictures of pink and yellow coral when it was actually coloured brown.
"We're not necessarily telling it like it really is," he said.
"We need to tell the story in its true way. We need not to paint it in a wrong colour.
"The Whitsundays is one of the most beautiful places on the planet ... but it is probably not the place to consistently presume or expect to snorkel with the types of coral you'd see on the outer reef."
Mr Grundy said declining water quality and increasing sedimentation were problems in the Whitsunday area and soft corals were deteriorating rapidly.