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Meet Cassie Paumard of Project Kolika

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cassie Paumard.

Hi Cassie, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
The ocean has always been a part of my life from as far back as I can remember. From snorkeling to surfing and exploring the tide pools around the world, I developed a deep appreciation for this deep blue entity. Dolphins were always my favorite growing up. My eldest brother shared his fascination of dolphins with me early on.

At the age of 13, I started my organization, under a different name at the time, thinking I could save all the animals — like any animal-loving, naive girl. It started as a high school club, and I raised money through fundraisers for other organizations for various wildlife: gorillas, grey wolves, dolphins, rhinos, etc. It wasn’t until several years ago that I decided to focus on ocean conservation. A couple of years after that, I changed the name of my organization to Project Kolika, with Kolika being Hawaiian for “from the sea.” My love for dolphins had evolved into caring for all that kept their environment healthy, sharks included; an animal I never thought I’d be so passionate about and develop so much love for.

The hate for sharks never came to mind when I was very young. In fact, I remember grocery shopping with my mother and seeing shark meat for sale. I thought, “People actually eat sharks? Isn’t that like eating a dolphin?” My young mind couldn’t grasp the notion of people consuming these important predators. Fast forward to several years ago when I decided to focus more on ocean conservation, I wanted to experience sharks for what they truly were and not what the media portrays them to be. Through my organization, I led educational outreach talks to students of all ages on the importance of sharks and various ocean conservation issues; I wanted to tell our future generations that these are the animals we need to protect for a healthy ocean and not slaughter them by the 100 million that we do each year. So I booked my flight for Hawaii and stayed for two months, with hopes of bringing back proof that sharks aren’t out to kill humans and deserve our protection. Once there, I free-dove with 16 large Galapagos sharks and sandbars for the first time at the age of 20. This went on for the whole two months and my organization’s goal shifted to protecting these animals as a priority.

As of 2019, I graduated with my bachelor’s in Marine Biology with hopes of pursuing a future PhD. That same year, Project Kolika was established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. I now have a wonderful team of volunteers that help me out with my research projects, including our Pinniped Monitoring Program, where we analyze sea lion behavior and monitor human harassment. We have additionally teamed up with a researcher, Dr. David Witting, at NOAA Fisheries to help with abalone conservation through citizen science efforts. My shark research consists of studying Pacific short-fin makos and their ecology. I take people out to experience the chance to swim with these misunderstood animals on our research and education-based Pelagic Encounters tours, all while researching makos. Project Kolika really targets many aspects of ocean conservation, from working directly with the animals we are aiding to indirectly protecting marine life through analyzing and mitigating our human impacts.

This has been an incredible journey and there is so much yet to come, I can barely wrap my head around what my team and I have accomplished in these past few years. Through endless hours of perseverance and planning, the execution of much of my work has come into fruition. The amount of support I’ve gotten from the community and all over the world gives me hope that we can achieve our goals together in bettering our oceans.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
It definitely has not been a smooth road. Being exposed to the horrors that our environment faces, it’s a constant mental struggle to keep fighting for what you believe in. There have been many days where it’s hard to get out of bed and difficult to see past the evil us humans have caused. I’ve experienced eco-anxiety from such a young age, even before I started my organization. But at the same time, I feel it is this very same anxiety that fuels me to not give up.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Project Kolika is a 501(c)3 nonprofit focused on ocean conservation via research and education. We conduct various wildlife research from abalone to sharks, and bring public awareness and engagement through our research. We mostly consist of a women-run team, with all of our team members and volunteers being passionate and driven in their own way.

Project Kolika involves the local community by hosting monthly beach clean ups, alternating between La Jolla Shores and Fiesta Island. We also offer snorkeling tours in the La Jolla area and offshore to dive with sharks and more!

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
What I like best about our city would be our beautiful beaches with endless surfing and diving opportunities year-round. On the contrary, there’s not enough signage to keep our beaches clean, especially when tourists flock to our beaches.


  • Snorkel tours from $45/person
  • Pelagic Encounters shark diving tours $400/person

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Trystan Snodgrass, Jami Feldman, John Harrington, Blake Thompson

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