The passion in Bimini is palpable. Riding through the rustic streets in a golf cart, you’ll see locals engaged in animated discussion and fishermen with nets full of wiggling fish. You’ll smell wafts of Bimini Bread baked fresh in the early morning hours, concocted by recipes passed down from generations of Biminites. You’ll hear the thumping bass of Goombay drums leading you to rustic bars and seaside conch shacks. And soon you’ll start to understand why legends like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ernest Hemingway frequented the island in search of peace and inspiration.
The island breeds pride, and Biminites don’t hide it. Speaking with locals, you’ll discover an innate passion for the island within each of them. Their knowledge of Bimini’s culture and history dates back before the time Ponce de Leon sailed the Atlantic in search of the Fountain of Youth. And that’s all thanks to local historian, author, eternal scholar, and perhaps one of the most passionate locals of all – Ashley Saunders.
DESTINED FOR HIGHER EDUCATION
At 12 years old, a teacher asked Ashley, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He gave the answer of any other 12-year-old in Bimini at the time – “a fisherman.” And that’s probably the life that more than half of the boys in his grade went on to live, but Ashley was destined for something different. His teacher noticed a spark in him, an aptitude for academia that showed hope for a life of higher education. So, the teacher invested in him, and planted the seeds of passion for learning. Ashley bought his first book that year; it would be the first of many.
Ashley graduated from middle school in Bimini with flying colors, but he wanted more. Bimini at the time didn’t have any form of higher education, so Ashley left the intimate island in the quest to continue his appetite for learning. In the next couple of years, Ashley found himself traveling across the US, learning more than he could have imagined, and finding new passions along the way. He began his studies in Miami Dade College. At his young age, the school allowed him to stay only if he kept his grades high – it’s no surprise he had no issues. He tenured two years at Miami Dade before he continued to his next adventure.
His next few years of education only increase in impressiveness. After graduating with a degree in Western Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ashley moved on to higher studies at Harvard University, combining his two greatest passions – philosophy and childhood development. The result? A Masters Degree in the Philosophy of Children, a degree only found within the nation’s number one school.
SHARING HIS STUDIES
Ashley moved back to Bimini to continue his relentless pursuit of education, but this time, it was with the purpose of passing on his knowledge. Ashley single-handedly raised the standard of education in Bimini – and we’re not just saying that. To start, he instated the first high school in Bimini’s history. Before, education stopped after middle school. But creating a high school wasn’t enough. He went on to become a teacher at that very school, and introduced subjects that were never before taught on the island, from biology and indigenous literature, to the history of the island.
Teaching the history of Bimini to his students was a struggle. There were absolutely no books in the world that covered the history of the island to the extent that he wished to see. Ashley’s answer to the problem? You guessed it – to write the books himself. The next five years of his life were dedicated to collecting as much information as he possibly could. He took his studies back to the University of Miami to spend an entire summer studying extensive Caribbean history records. He even traveled to Spain, channeling the spirits of conquistadors like Christopher Columbus. Following his international adventures, he traveled back to Bimini, ready to write his findings, and set another record – the first to ever dedicate multiple books to the history of the island of Bimini.
Amid his strides to better the education of his homeland, Ashley had a whole other passion that started to grow within him. And it soon led to his most famous accomplishment to date.
THE BEGINNING OF A NEW PASSION
Ashley’s fascination with dolphins began the moment he decided to swim with them in the wild. He jumped into the warm waters of Bimini and found himself surrounded by a pod of over 40 dolphins, all swimming freely. In that instant, Ashley’s life changed. His heart, mind, and soul became captivated by the beauty and intelligence of these creatures. After that moment, his inner artist came alive, and his life became dedicated to honoring his new passion.
To repay the dolphins for giving him a newfound sense of inspiration, Ashley built a home for himself in their honor. The Dolphin House is a two-story building on North Bimini, just steps from the island’s turquoise waters. Ashley built it all on his own, solely utilizing recyclable materials found in Bimini. With sand, conch shells, stones, and sea glass, Ashley built a home, a museum, and a landmark all in one. “Dolphin House” is proudly spelled out in tiles arching over the front walls, inviting guests to walk in and learn about what makes dolphins and the island of Bimini so special to Ashley.
Walk into the first-floor museum and you’ll see historic photos, letters, artifacts, and of course, the many books that Ashley has written in dedication to his island. Upstairs where Ashley lives, you’ll find an eclectic array of memorabilia plastered into the walls – license plates from every US state, local art, beer bottles, coins, and random items found on the shores of Bimini. Dolphin-themed art dominates the house, giving guests a glimpse into the passion that Ashley has for his marine friends.
AN ENDLESS QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE
The Dolphin House is a lifelong project. Walk in one day and it’s guaranteed to look different the next time you visit. Ashley is constantly adding new items to his home – whether it be an item found on the shores just a few steps away, or a gift from a visitor from halfway around the world.
If we’ve learned anything about Ashley, it’s that his quest for knowledge is infinite. It’s no coincidence that Ashley spent his days as a student studying the philosophy of children. What does it mean to be a child? A few words come to mind – curiosity, adventure, exploring, creating, and evolving. Ashley keeps his inner child alive, in a constant cycle of gaining knowledge, sharing it, and finding a new passion to learn and share. While Ashley’s current passion is dolphins, who knows if he’ll find himself enamored by another fascinating aspect of his island. What’s certain is that whatever he sets his mind to, he’ll undoubtedly fulfil that passion to the greatest extent, and pass on his knowledge to all who wish to listen.