A professor and a student found the body while collecting water samples. Martin County authorities have started an investigation into his death.

PORT MAYACA - What began as a daylong field trip for Palm Beach Atlantic University professor Thomas Chesnes’ biology class turned into an unexpected discovery Saturday afternoon.


They found a man’s body.


Chesnes said he and six students were walking along a canal trail in western Martin County to collect water samples when he and one of the students discovered the body lying face up at the bottom of trail steps.


“It was a shock,” said Chesnes, who directed students away from the body and contacted authorities.


The Martin County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday it was conducting a formal death investigation. Authorities did not disclose the identity of the person, or say whether foul play was suspected.


Chesnes said the students were participating in a field trip to collect water samples for his class on the natural history of the Everglades watershed. The group began their day collecting samples from the Kissimmee River, on the watershed’s northern end, then went to the Lake Okeechobee Pier.


They were on their way to their third and final spot of the day - a narrow bank along the St. Lucie Canal in Port Mayaca, 40 miles west of Jupiter - at about 3 p.m. Saturday when they discovered the body.


“We came across the bend and all of a sudden you could see his shoes,” Chesnes told The Palm Beach Post on Tuesday. “Within a moment, (the student and I) realized what we were looking at.”


Chesnes stopped the other students before they could see the body. One student gathered the group in prayer, and Chesnes then directed the students to another area near Lake Okeechobee so that they could continue to focus on collecting samples while he waited for authorities to arrive.


“I was proud of how the students reacted to the situation,” he said. “They did really well.”