SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB)– Sea Turtle nesting season has begun in the Panhandle and will run until October.

Currently, there are 18 loggerhead sea turtle nests, and surveyors with South Walton Turtle Watch are on the beach early every morning looking for tracks and nests.

“We are seeing an increase in nests compared to last year. Right now we have only loggerhead nests, but we are hoping to see some green sea turtles soon,” said Barb Van Stavern with South Walton Turtle Watch.

The group is encouraging beachgoers to leave no trace by making sure the beaches are left dark, clean, and flat before they head home for the day. They are asking if you notice anything out of place, including fencing or trash, do your part and pick it up.

“Something even as small as a cellphone flashlight can cause a baby sea turtle to stray away and not make it to the shore,” she said.

Holes are also an issue for baby sea turtles as they can fall into them and become trapped. She’s asking beachgoers to fill any holes they make from playing in the sand at the beach once they are done to assist young hatchlings.

Those who vandalize a nest can face fines at the federal and state level and even possible jail time.

On Thursday, officials released a sea turtle that had been hooked by a fisherman in Panama City Beach.

“This is becoming more and more common as we share our beaches with the sea turtles. Please contact officials before attempting to help a sea turtle,” she said. 

If you spot a stranded sea turtle , make sure to call the South Walton Turtle Watch group or the Florida Fish and Wildlife.

You can help protect the nesting turtles by using amber lighting on beachfront patios. If you crab hunt at night, choose to use a red flashlight instead to minimize distractions for any turtles who may have swum ashore to nest.

South Walton Turtle Watch is also hosting Turtle Talk Tuesdays every Tuesday through August at 9 a.m. at Amavida Coffee located at 104 North Barrett Square in Rosemary Beach for young kids who are interested in learning more about sea turtles.

“It’s so important to teach this to the youth as they are the future conservationists,” she said.