Professor Kyla Bruff took two students, Kay Wagg and Roman Oliveira Zepeda, with her to Costa Rica on a research trip about the ethics of ecotourism in Costa Rica’s Sarapiqui region.

Here’s what Professor Bruff, Kay, and Roman said about the ways that the two students contributed to the research trip:

From left to right: Roman, Kay, and Prof. Bruff

“I was so lucky to have two excellent student research assistants, both philosophy students at Carleton, accompany me on this research trip. Roman and Kay were of great help in taking detailed notes during our interviews, which we synthesized together at the end of the trip, and in asking follow-up questions to the people we met. Additionally, Kay was very helpful in drafting the proposal for the planned “Future of Nature – Sarapiqui” conference that we plan for 2024, and Roman, who is fluent in Spanish, was integral to facilitating communication with the people we interviewed in the Sarapiquí region. Roman interpreted and translated on the spot like a pro!” – Prof. Bruff

“It was an experience that I was grateful to be a part of in general but also getting to interact with and relate to nature in a new way that was essentially illustrating the research we had done prior to the trip was incredible.” – Kay Wagg

“Having the opportunity to be part of the research team was an incredibly enriching experience for me. It marked the first time I was able to apply philosophy outside of a classroom setting and I could not imagine a better environment to do so than in the center of a Costa Rican rainforest. Prior to our leave, my primary role as a research assistant involved gathering relevant data on ecotourism in Costa Rica and on the National University’s Sarapiqui campus. During our time in Costa Rica, I had the privilege of serving as the team’s translator.” – Roman Oliveira Zepeda

And here’s what Kay and Roman had to say about the most memorable parts of the trip:

From left to right: Prof. Bruff, Kay, and Roman

“The most memorable part of the trip for me was the conversations and discussions we got to have with local people. Both as a researcher and just as a person connecting with others, the ideas about nature and living well that came up over and over are definitely ones that will stick with me.” – Kay Wagg

“The highlight of my trip was connecting with the many amazing people who took the time to share their insights and knowledge with us during our research; they were truly some of the most inspirational and admirable people I have had the pleasure of speaking with. Of course, the vibrant biodiversity of Costa Rica, along with its towering trees and exotic birds was an unforgettable aspect of this project. Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention Billy the dog, his company added an extra layer of joy to the already incredible experience.” – Roman Oliveira Zepeda

Finally, check out this full description of the research trip and its reasons from Professor Kyla Bruff:

“One of my current research topics is the relation between nature and human beings, especially as explored within the critical theory tradition. I ask questions such as: How do we see ourselves, especially through our labor, as either an integrated part of, or alienated from, nature? I am also interested in the question of how local epistemologies and a sense of place contribute to different understandings of sustainability, conservation, and the environmental crisis.

I began doing applied research on these topics in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2015, where I was heavily involved in planning a transdisciplinary event in environmental science, philosophy, industry, and art on the West Coast of Newfoundland (“The Future of Nature: Gros Morne”). This work led to me becoming the Co-Director of an ecological NPO, “For A New Earth” ( One of the presenters at the Gros Morne was Jorge Manuel Luna Angulo, the Director of the National University of Costa Rica – Sarapiquí Campus.

From left to right: Kay, Roman, and Prof. Bruff

After this event, it became clear that related research and a similar event on the future of nature and sustainability in the Sarapiquí region of Costa Rica would be fruitful and productive. The Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica faces a critical moment in ecotourism development, which raises important philosophical questions, such as: Does this development, in consideration of profit-driven goals, conceal exploitative practices and the alienation of local people from nature? What ethical commitments and concept of nature do the conservation efforts and sustainable practices in the ecotourism industry really imply?

I was lucky to be awarded a SSHRC Explore Early Research Grant to travel to Sarapiquí to begin my research on this project.  During the research trip, we primarily consulted with local people to investigate whether sustainability practices in ecotourism and industry in the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica benefit local people, and whether they experience an alienation from nature in relation to the marketing and economic profit of these practices.”